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 the Bradley opencast near Dipton.
Update: The first hearing is to be 12th December at Peterlee Magistrates Court.
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.
At our court case in August a judge at Teeside Magistrates Court was unconvinced by the actions of the coal company regarding Brooms Pond on 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. This meant that the five people on charges of aggravated trespass were acquitted.
During that case there was much discussion as to whether best available techniques were employed by Banks’ ecologist working for Argus and it was concluded that they weren’t. “There is no doubt in my mind that those standards were not followed” by Mr Lupton of Argus Ecology. 
Don Kent from the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley says, “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. DurhamCounty 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 opencast in April 2018 who used pitfall traps seen as the best way to find out if newts are present. UK Coal, which secured planning permission on the site, had 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. Which ultimately Banks Group failed to meet this deadline but Durham County Council has refused to take action against the company.
According to the RSPB 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 says, “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.”
If found guilty the coal company is likely to face a fine and reputational damage.