Environmental campaigners have succeeded in taking out a private prosecution against a coal mining company over the alleged destruction of a newt habitat.
Banks Group is accused of wildlife crime for allegedly destroying the breeding and resting places of protected Great Crested Newts on the controversial Bradley opencast coal site in County Durham.
Solicitors acting on behalf of Campaign to Protect Pont Valley have been informed that a court summons will shortly be issued to Banks Group to attend a hearing on 12th December at Peterlee Magistrates Court.
This comes as Banks Group await the verdict from the High Court on their appeal to start another new opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland.
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.
Solicitor Neil Connell, of Singleton Winn Connell said: “In my opinion there is clearly a prima facie case for Banks Group to answer.” Connell is the solicitor instructed in this case.
In August, Judge Cousins of Teeside Magistrates Court expressed doubt over the legality of the actions of Banks Group regarding the Brooms pond on the Bradley opencast.
She said: “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."
Judge Cousins' verdict was issued in the trial of protesters who had been taken to court for peacefully protesting to stop the opencast coal mine from starting.
During the case the Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines were examined. Judge Cousins said: “There is no doubt in my mind that those standards were not followed” by Mr Lupton of Argus Ecology.
UK Coal - which had originally secured the planning permission on the site - laid out plans to translocate newts to purpose built ponds to the north of the site. Banks Group alleged there were no newts and therefore claimed they did not need to comply with the procedures to protect the animals.
Campaigners allege that Durham Constabulary - which does not have wildlife crime officers - has refused to fully investigate the actions of the opencast company.
Anne Harris for Campaign to Protect Pont Valley said: “Durham Police force have inexplicably refused to properly investigate the major wildlife crime that happened here in plain sight, choosing instead to arrest people protecting the environment. We are left with no choice but to take Banks Group to court ourselves.”
Don Kent, the from the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley, said: “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 needed to bring Banks Group to justice.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Coal Action.