On Monday, all five defendants were acquitted of aggravated trespass for actions intended to delay and stop Banks Group accessing land to start an opencast coal mine in the Pont Valley, Durham.
The five were in various positions including locking on to arm tubes submerged in concrete, up a tripod and lying in tunnels on the 19th and 20th April 2018. The actions were taken to stop work at the Bradley opencast in the Pont Valley Durham due to concerns over Great Crested Newt habitat, damage to the local area and climate change.
A sixth defendant was found not guilty of aggravated trespass following an attempt to stop machinery digging on the land early in May. Two defendants had their cases dropped as it was unclear how the pair could be obstructing a highway whilst in a tree!
District Judge, Ms Cousins, gave the verdict following a three and a half day trial. She said that she cannot be convinced that Banks Mining Group was not destroying or about to destroy the habitat of the Great Crested Newts.
An endangered great crested newt was caught by protestors in a pitfall trap on the 17th April 2018. Two days late the mining company came to evict the camp which had been in place since late February. The Judge accepted that a great crested newt was found on site by the protestors and that the protestors did not know an eviction was about to take place. The case showed that the ecologist employed by Banks had not used the appropriate methodology to confirm the absence of protected species, such as the pitfall traps used by protestors, hence the acquittal.
Jessica Sankey, a protestor who appeared in Court today said: “This is a victory. It proved that Banks had not taken the appropriate measures to protect the ecology of the site. However, it is bitter sweet. Brooms pond has already been destroyed and the fact that Banks are still extracting coal will only serve to further the destruction of delicate habitats and accelerate global climate change.”
Sarah Johnson, another defendant said; “Today, the legal system has deemed our actions to be legitimate as these species are protected by law. Now we need laws to safeguard ecosystems and the planet from damaging fossil fuel extraction and combustion. The struggle is far from over. Fossil fuel companies need to be held accountable for their profit driven activities that that are directly responsible for climate breakdown. All fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground if we have any hope in minimising the effects of climate change.”
Members of the campaign to Protect Pont Valley say they will continue work with communities affected or threatened by opencast mining, with a skillshare camp taking place in Dipton 5-9th of September.