According to today’s Sunday Star-Times
State-owned coal company Solid Energy has admitted hiring private investigators to spy on environmental activists protesting against a proposed West Coast mine.
Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder said the company had a contract with Thompson and Clark Investigations Ltd, a private investigations firm specialising in providing security to the biotech industry.
Save Happy Valley, the protest group involved in an occupation of the proposed opencast mine site at Happy Valley, 25km northeast of Westport, said Solid Energy was acting “absolutely over the top“.
It says the mine will destroy wetland which is the natural habitat of the great spotted Kiwi and protected giant snails.
“We’d hope they would operate in a more open way and stop playing their games,” said the group’s spokeswoman, Frances Mountier. She said suspicions were aroused when they found security staff waiting for them at sites of planned activities.
Elder said using private investigators was a sensible business practice, because of the rising level of protest action against the company.
“In total, the illegal occupations, vandalism, lost revenue and wasted staff time have probably cost us up to $1 million, with potential for significant escalation if incidents continue,” he said.
Since the campaign began in April 2004, protesters have delayed coal trains by chaining themselves to railway tracks, dug up a lawn and unfurled a protest banner from the roof at Solid Energy’s Christchurch office, and sporadically occupied the Happy Valley site.
In January a third occupation at the mine site began. Protesters say it will continue indefinitely.