ILLEGAL activity by environmental campaigners opposed to the creation of an opencast coalmine is beginning to affect the day-to-day policing, a senior officer has warned.

Three people were arrested on Tuesday as part of an ongoing police operation at the Bradley site, near Consett, after a man and a women chained themselves to a metal tube.

It is part of a protest against controversial plans by Banks Group to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal from the land between Dipton and Leadgate.

Chief Inspector Richie Allen said: “I am concerned that the type of activity we have seen is beginning to affect the policing of our communities and is having a financial impact on Durham Constabulary, which has had to call in specialist teams from other forces to deal with people who ‘lock on’.

“It is noticeable that the people we have arrested are not local to County Durham.

“They are travelling activists whose activities are stretching our ability to deal with the day-to-day policing of our communities.”

A 32-year-old woman, from Brighton, and a man whose details have yet to be released remain in custody.

Both were arrested on suspicion of obstruction of the highway and offences contrary to the Trade Union Act.

A 22-year-old woman, from Bristol, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass, arising out of an incident at the site on April 19, and also on suspicion of resisting arrest.

Anne Harris, from the Coal Action Network, said: “The police are acting as private security for Banks Group and the way they are approaching it is entirely one-sided.

“They can choose not push through planning permission, which is void because of the great crested newts there, and investigate a wildlife crime so they do not have to put resources into stopping protests.”

Four people arrested at the site last month appeared before Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday charged with aggravated trespass.

All four pleaded not guilty and were granted bail to reappear before the same court on May 17.

Since the protest started at the site, Durham Constabulary has arrested a total of 11 people for offences including aggravated trespass and assault.

Banks Group spokesman Lewis Stokes said: “We are grateful to Durham Police for their swift response and assistance in resolving this minor disruption.”