Banks coal company, accused of wildlife crime, fail to appear at court.
A judge at Peterlee Magistrates Court on Wednesday 12th December heard the case against Banks’ Group for alleged wildlife crimes in the Pont Valley. The case will go to a full hearing on 11th February 2019 at Teesside Magistrate Courts.
Banks Group, who failed to attend the hearing today, is accused of wildlife crimes for allegedly destroying the breeding and resting places of protected Great Crested Newts on the controversial Bradley opencast coal site in County Durham. 
Judge Helen Cousins entered a plea of not guilty on behalf of Banks Group today. The company said they were not aware of the summons to appear before the judge. Judge concluded that the summons had been properly served and that Bank’s solicitor had ‘manipulated the court process’.
“By not showing up today Banks Mining Group have shown their ongoing contempt for community concerns and the environment” said Jackie Scollen from Campaign to Protect Pont Valley
This hearing comes weeks after a High Court decision backing Banks Groups’ appeal to start another opencast mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland.
Great Crested Newts are a European Protected Species which means destroying their breeding and resting places is a criminal offence.
In August, a trial of Pont Valley protesters heard Judge Cousins at Teesside Magistrates Court express doubt over the legality of the actions of Banks Group; “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,”  During the case Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines were examined. Judge Cousins said, “There is no doubt in my mind that those standards were not followed”. 
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.”
Campaign to Protect Pont Valley is currently crowdfunding to raise the money to support individuals in the community affected by the opencast to pursue their case.
Great Crested Newts are a European Protected Species which means destroying their breeding and resting places is a criminal offence under regulation 43 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.
 Bradley opencast coal 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 had to be built was occupied for over six weeks. On the 19th April 2018 the camp was evicted with seven people arrested.
 In August five people were acquitted of aggravated trespass for trying to prevent work starting on the site, the case was dropped against two others. Banks Group and the prosecution could not convince the Judge it was acting legally with regards to the habitat of Great Crested Newts. [Teesside Magistrates Court. R v Tobias Munnion et al. Judgement of District Judge (Magistrates Court) Helen Cousins 06/08/18]
 “I have read carefully English Nature 2001. Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines. English Nature, Peterborough. ISBN 1 85716 568 3 in particular pages 23-25, and I note the Survey standards on page 26.
- There is no doubt in my mind that those standards were not followed.” [Teesside Magistrates Court. R v Tobias Munnion et al. Judgement of District Judge (Magistrates Court) Helen Cousins 06/08/18]
 “Considering the status of the population, it is expected that Temporary Amphibian Fencing would be installed up to 250m from the wetland area and 25 days trapping required to clear the site;” Natural England email to Banks Group (13/06/18). All of the area where the access road now lies is within 250m of Brooms Pond. Banks Group failed to complete the access road by this deadline as required by the s106 agreement, but Durham County Council refused to hold the company to the contract. https://www.desmog.co.uk/2018/07/02/investigation-has-banks-group-prematurely-started-work-uk-s-newest-coal-mine