Campaigners against opencast mining in Pont Valley have warned that aggressive police tactics are leading to detentions of people who have committed no crime following the latest set of protests at the site.
Yesterday at around 1pm, Durham cops arrested a walker on a public footpath close to the Bradley opencast site in Dipton. He was searched, arrested and detained on suspicion of intent to commit criminal damage for having a bike lock in his possession. In a statement the man said:
What this arrest represents is a step towards an ugly precedent that will impact all protestors. I was arrested without committing any crime and detained for the remainder of the day. If this is seen to be lawful it allows for potential protestors to be arrested before committing any offence. This further infringes upon every person’s democratic right to peacefully protest; reinforcing the position of the police as private security for companies instead of protecting the communities they claim to serve. Individual liberty cannot be removed on the whim by officers, as mine has been in the interest of Banks. All charges were dropped the same day.
The arrest follows on from a concerning radio interview (see 48:31) given by Durham chief inspector Richie Allen earlier this month in which he alleged that “criminal and offending behaviour” was taking place “at or around the site,” which he blamed on “travelling activists”. At the time activists against the Bradley project warned this was evidence of a worsening police attitude and bias against a peaceful campaign to protect the Pont Valley which has been ongoing for the last three decades.
On Friday the mining company started the removal of Brooms Pond. This habitat has been shown by ecologists in the past and continues to be claimed by locals to contain the protected species of great crested newts.
The same day Banks released a statement indicating that planning permission had been triggered, however this has been challenged by campaign groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and 38 Degrees, which have argued in a letter to the Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire that any permit should be revoked if the government is to act within its pledge to eliminate all coal generation by 2025.
Since the beginning of works individuals have gathered in front of the site to voice their concerns and disapproval of opencast mining. In total 16 protestors have been arrested for a number of different charges. Others have been subjected to dispersal orders requiring them to leave the area for the next 24 or 48 hours. The police have condemned the actions of the campaigners as a hindrance for the police to carry out their work elsewhere. Anne Harris, from the Coal Action Network, said:
Our presence around the site to observe the actions of Banks is absolutely necessary for us to ensure that the mining company does not cut corners with the preparatory work. The mining company have had a very tight deadline to comply with a number of conditions to trigger planning permission.
However, authorities have not been holding Banks to account on a various aspects. For instance, the destruction of the habitat of a protected species is an imprisonable offence and all those, including police and staff, who are aiding Banks in committing this wildlife crime could be subject to prosecutions on grounds of malfeasance. We have been forced to take up the fight ourselves until justice is served.
Banks Group intends to mine up to 550,000 tonnes of coal from the valley, but only has until June 3 to complete road works and start extracting coal — which activists intend to slow down.
Pic: Police loom over protectors outside the Pont Valley mine site earlier this month, from Campaign to Protect Pont Valley