Early in the morning of the 19th April bailiffs acting on behalf of Banks Group along with police and Durham Council workers arrived at the Pont Valley Protection Camp. They thought they could clear our camps by lunchtime, but it took three days.
Ten people locked into defences on the field where Banks Group wants to start a coal mine. Four were chained to lock-ons on the surface, one person was up a tripod, two were in tunnels underground, two were in a treehouse and one was in a caravan in a gateway at the far end of the field. The men from the organisations instantly tried to restrict access to the camps both in the field belonging to the farmer and the verge in front of it.
Check out this film about the eviction and the ongoing campaign https://www.facebook.com/protectpontvalley/videos/211360632983321/
The intention of the defences was to take up as much time as possible so that it held up the beginning of operations on the site by Banks Group. Banks have to build an access road before they can start the opencast, if the opencast isn’t started by the 3rd June then planning lapses.
A Great Crested Newt, called Carole, was found on the site at Bradley on the 17th April. This was reported to Natural England, Durham County Ecologist, Amphibian Conservation bodies and Banks Group. This has been reported in the media. Great Crested Newts are a European Protected Species and as such Banks Group requires a license to interfere with their habitat. Banks does not have a license. This could require a translocation programme for the newts.
As the eviction started it became very clear that the bailiffs were behaving in dangerous ways and ignoring the safety advice from those who have lived and created this camp. This included driving large vehicles very close to the tunnels after the police and bailiffs acknowledged that they did not know how many tunnels there were, which direction they went in or how many people there were. The tunnels were unsupported. Ultimately one of the tunnels started to collapse.
The police and bailiffs arrogantly thought that they could evict both camps before 12.30pm. A large funeral of a respected member of the community had longed been planned for 1pm. The fact that Banks Group thought this day was appropriate to evict shows how they hold the people who live in this area in contempt. It had been agreed by UK Coal, who applied for this planning permission, that no blasting would take place during funerals, how could an eviction operation be appropriate?
The first person to be evicted from the camp was in the mid afternoon on Thursday, the last at the end of the day on Friday.
One of the protectors was dragged out of the site by a digger which was attached to a chain that enforcement officers wrapped around the ‘lock on tube’ that was around her arm, while watched over by police officers.
Although the campaigners understood the positions they put themselves in, we were all shocked by what shocked all of them was the lack of safety concerns, unskilled and unprepared enforcement officers, and the abusive behaviour on the part of police and enforcement officers. All events over the course of the eviction were watched over by the police with little to no reaction or intervention.
Three people were removed from defences on Thursday and two more came out of the tunnels voluntarily and were arrested in the early hours of Friday. By the end of the day two other people had been taken from the tree house by specialist climbers and arrested. Several people fled the scene. Eviction teams secured the tunnels on Saturday, taking much of the day, despite the occupants having left. All were released on Friday 20th April.
Durham County Council tore down, On the Verge, the protection camp next to the A692. There has been no court case relating to this camp. The Pont Valley Protection Camp has been speaking with the council about this camp and the council has previously said that there have been no safety concerns and that they would communicate with people at the camp about the legality of the situation. This has not happened. Durham council refused applications to opencast on this site in 1986, 2001 and 2011.
Durham Constabulary refused to record or investigate the wildlife crime which Banks Group are preparing to commit, by disturbing a European Protected Species’ habitat without a Great Crested Newt License. The police force does not have a wildlife crime officer, who would normally be the person leading on cases such as these. The police were heavy handed with the people trying to ensure the welfare of those locked on, independent media, legal observers, concerned local people. On Friday morning they dispersed most interested parties. These actions seem to have been taken to facilitate an extractives company over public safety or ecological legislation.
Pont Valley Protection Camp lives on, join us at Pontop Hall, Dipton, County Durham, DH9 9ED.