Case law >> Breaking free from paper chains

13th February 2012


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Related tags

  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Prosecution

Author

IEMA

Colleen Theron and Deirdre Lyons from LexisPSL explain what the quashing of St Regis Paper's conviction for intentionally falsifying data means for companies with regards intent

In November 2011, the criminal division of the Court of Appeal overturned the Crown Court’s conviction of St Regis Paper Company for the offence of intentionally making a false entry in an Environment Agency (EA) record in contravention of reg. 32(1)(g) of the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000 (PPC).

St Regis had to keep records of the amount of pollutants flowing into the River Culm, in Devon, from its Cullompton mill as a condition of its environmental permit.

The technical manager, Christopher Steer, had to produce daily environmental report sheets for the amount of suspended solids in the outflow from one of the plants. False readings were recorded and misleading reports returned to the EA. Consequently, in April 2011, the paper mill was ordered to pay £455,000 in fines and costs for the breaches.

The Crown Court jury also heard that a freshwater dilution system had been installed to dilute effluent with river water before it reached the sampling point, something the EA was unaware of.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal decided:

  • There was no basis in law for attributing the technical manager’s dishonest intentions to the company.
  • It was not possible to impose criminal liability for a breach of reg. 32(1)(g) on St Regis – as opposed to the manager with record-keeping responsibility, who was found guilty of the same offence.
  • The exception to this approach was where an intention to make a false entry could be attributed to the company by operation of the Tesco Supermarkets Limited v Nattrass rule – that the intentions of the manager could be said to be the directing mind and will of the company. But this case did not warrant imposing such liability.
  • Regulation 32(1)(g) should be seen in the context of that regulation as a whole, which showed immediately that a contrast could be drawn between offences of strict liability, such as reg. 32(1)(b)–(e), and those which require proof of intent, such as reg. 32(1)(g)–(h).
  • The conviction could not be sustained on the basis of vicarious liability.
  • The PPC Regulations 2000 have been repealed. However, reg. 38 of the successor Regulations – the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 – contain similar offences.

Despite the conviction being quashed, this case sends out a strong message to firms to not falsify environmental data.


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