OPENCAST mine protesters who were charged with aggravated trespass will argue that their actions were not unlawful because they were doing it to protect great crested newts.

Teesside Magistrates Court heard that a number of defendants expected to go on trial on Wednesday next week accept that they used a “lock on” device to prevent bailiffs from moving them on from the Bradley site between Leadgate and Dipton, in County Durham.

Mining group Banks has permission to extract about half a million tonnes of coal in the area and was aiming to complete preparatory work.

The defendants also accept they were trespassing, but after pleading not guilty are ready to argue that they were doing it to protect newts discovered on the site – themselves protected by law – and will claim it was the mining group’s activity that was in fact unlawful.

A pre-trial hearing was told that two more defendants discovered in a tree were on the public highway and a discussion was taking place about whether this represented an obstruction.

Those charged following their arrest by police are aged between 21 and 44 and hail from locations including London, Swansea, Kent, Newcastle and Dipton itself.

Some face assault charges and are also accused of hiding tools/clothes/property.