ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have launched a bid to take out a private prosecution against a coal company over the alleged destruction of a newt habitat.

Campaign to Protect Pont Valley is seeking to taking action against Banks Group for “destroying the breeding and resting places of protected great crested newts” at Brooms Pond, on the controversial Bradley opencast coal site” near Dipton, County Durham.

Banks Mining has planning permission to remove 500,000 tonnes of coal from the site.

They said Great Crested Newts are a European Protected Species and as such destroying their breeding and resting places

Solicitor Neil Connell, of Singleton Winn Connell said: “In my opinion there is clearly a prima facie case for Banks Mining to answer.

“An application for a summons has been made at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court to prosecute Banks Group for a criminal offence under regulation 43 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

“The application will have to be considered by the court.”

The latest development comes months after eight demonstrators who hid in underground tunnels and tied themselves to trees and concrete-filled bins at the Bradley site were cleared of aggravated trespass. A judge ruled they were doing it to prevent a wildlife crime.

Just two days before High Court enforcement officers forcibly cleared them off the site and arrested them, protesters claimed to have had found one of the rare newts in a trap they had set.

District Judge Helen Cousins, sitting at Teesside Magistrates Court, said: “I couldn’t be satisfied that Banks would not have committed or be about to commit an offence contrary to the Habitat and Species Regulations.”

Don Kent, whose name the 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.”

A Banks Group spokesperson says: “We have had no notification of any potential legal action from any party on this issue and it would therefore be inappropriate to provide any comment at this point”