Durham community group to prosecute coal company over habitat destruction

Campaign to Protect Pont Valley has launched a private prosecution against Banks Group for destroying the breeding and resting places of protected Great Crested Newts at Brooms Pond, on Bradley opencast coal site. The activists are currently crowdfunding to raise the money needed to bring Banks Group to justice.

The controversial site lies adjacent to the A692 between the villages of Dipton and Leadgate, Durham. Planning permission was granted in June 2015 but no work started until February 2018 at which point the land where the access road has not been built was occupied for over six weeks. On the 19th April 2018 the camp was evicted with seven people arrested.

Great Crested Newts are a European Protected Species and as such destroying their breeding and resting places is a criminal offence under regulation 43 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

Neil Connell, the solicitor instructed in this case, states: “In my opinion there is clearly a prima facie case for Banks Mining Group to answer.”

In August a judge at Teeside Magistrates Court was unconvinced by the actions of Banks Group regarding the Bradley opencast. “I cannot be satisfied to the criminal standard that Banks would not have committed, be committing, or be about to commit an offence contrary to the Conservation and Habitat of Species Regulations,” said Judge Cousins in her verdict,  “There is no doubt in my mind that those standards were not followed”, she added.

Don Kent from the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley said, “It’s a very important and fundamental part of our society that the wealthy, both companies and individuals, are not able to escape their obligations under the law. Durham County Council has already refused to take action against Banks for a number of breaches of planning conditions. Let down by their representatives, local people cannot stand by and let a multi-million pound company ride roughshod over them, so we are taking a prosecution against the coal company ourselves.”

A Great Crested Newt was trapped by campaigners against the coal opencast in April 2018 who used pitfall traps. UK Coal, which secured planning permission on the site, laid out plans to translocate newts to purpose built ponds to the north of the site. Proper procedures require a 250m exclusion zone around Brooms Pond, compliance with which risking the company failing to meet the planning deadline of the 3rd June. Ultimately Banks Group failed to meet this deadline but Durham County Council has refused to take action against the company.

It is unusual for groups to need to privately prosecute wildlife crimes, but campaigners allege that Durham Constabulary, which does not have wildlife crime officers have refused to fully investigate the actions of the opencast company.

Anne Harris for Campaign to Protect Pont Valley stated, “Durham Police force have inexplicably refused to properly investigate the major wildlife crime which happened here in plain sight, choosing instead to arrest people protecting the environment. Showing Durham constabulary are not interested in protected species in this area. We are left with no choice but to take Banks Group to court ourselves.”