UGLY clashes between protesters and police, including at least eight claims of police brutality by community members, occurred yesterday as contractors barged into Laman Street to begin the removal of the city’s grand fig trees.
Seven protesters were arrested and charged after chaining themselves to posts and climbing trees in the street about 5.30am.
The group slipped under fences near the Civic Park fountain and remained on the enclosed site until they were removed by police about 1pm.
For a timeline of yesterday's events, including photographs, audio and video, click here.
The arrival of contractors soon after sparked dramatic scenes, including clashes between protesters and police.
Lord mayor John Tate, who was shoved at least twice by police as he attempted to back away, said he felt the police response was ‘‘not acceptable’’.
‘‘[The police] appeared to be aggressive,’’ Cr Tate said.
To read The Herald's opinion on the issue, click here.
Police warned protesters that trucks would be arriving, but they moved to forge a path through the crowd from the opposite direction, catching many by surprise.
For a gallery of pictures, taken by Herald photographers yesterday at Laman Street, click on the image above.
Save Our Figs spokeswoman Gennice Davies cried ‘‘stand firm’’ on a loudspeaker as police moved in.
A young girl was injured in the melee and lay on the ground as police held the crowd back, further angering many of the protesters.
Dr Anne Ronan, a paediatrician, said she tried to help her.
‘‘I shouted at the policeman: ‘a child is being hurt, a child is being hurt,’ and I was pushed aside,’’ Dr Ronan said.
‘‘She was hysterical, she was bleeding from the mouth, she was lapsing into unconsciousness, or so we thought, we were trying to keep the sun off her.
‘‘I stood up and screamed because I thought the girl was going to be run over.
‘‘The two policemen, whose names I have, pushed me away, pushed me back onto her, lying on the ground.’’
People nearby shouted for an ambulance, while other young girls in the crowd were crying and visibly upset.
After the gates were closed, a police rescue officer stepped out and grabbed protester Meg James by the collar.
Ms James had twice banged the gate and shouted while police were trying to shut it.
‘‘He opened the fence, pushed it out on to me, pushed me back into other people and came and lunged out at me, grabbed me from behind my neck and a whole bunch of other people were trying to get in between us, trying to stop him from getting me.’’
Dr Ronan, Ms James, war veteran Gerry Bailey, litigator Catherine Henry, Phil McKnight and three people who did not want to be named all said they would be lodging formal complaints about police actions.
The scenes followed an day when several people connected with the removal of the fig trees were verbally abused.
The mob directed their anger at councillor Bob Cook, with cries of ‘‘Go home Bob!’’ and ‘‘Shame Bob, shame!’’ when he arrived about 7am.
The council’s liveable city director Frank Cordingley was also targeted by enraged shouts and chants of ‘‘Resign!’’ General manager Phil Pearce was also present.
Superintendent Wayne Humphrey said afterwards that officers attached to the Newcastle City Local Area Command attended the Laman Street protest in the interests of public safety and to minimise anti-social behaviour.
Contractors removed several large branches of one of the fig trees, but work was halted again when another protester climbed into a tree and a large group slipped through a fence and occupied the steps of the Newcastle Library.
The tree removal is expected to continue on Monday.