In court: July 2015

30th June 2015

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  • Corporate fine ,
  • Prosecution ,
  • Legislation


Maria Hughes

A round-up of the latest environmental court cases.

Court upholds Thames Water’s £250,000 fine

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the sentence imposed on Thames Water Utilities for allowing untreated sewage to enter a brook running through a nature reserve was proportionate.

Reading crown court fined the company £250,000 in September 2014 in one of the first cases to reflect the sentencing guidelines for environmental offences that came into force on 1 July last year.

The guidelines introduced four categories of offence that relate to the level of harm caused. Also considered is the offender’s culpability – was it deliberate, reckless or negligent, or whether it committed with little or no fault on the part of the organisation.

Thames Water pleaded guilty to allowing sewage to enter The Chases, a nature reserve near Newbury, from an emergency overflow pipe at its Broad
Layings sewage pumping station on 2 September 2012. The Environment Agency said the discharge had been caused by a blockage in the pumps at the station on 29 August 2012 and that Thames Water had failed to act on the alarms system to attend and unblock them.

At the earlier hearing, the judge, recorder Arbuthnot, said: “The parties agree that the level of culpability is negligence and with which I agree. With regards to harm I find that this is a category 3 offence but at the severe end.” The starting point for fines for negligent, category 3 offences committed by firms with a turnover of at least £50 million is £60,000, rising to £150,000. The courts, however, can impose financial penalties outside this range for large companies by considering whether the fine is proportionate to the means of the offender.

The court of appeal agreed the fine was proportionate. The judges also referred to Thames Water’s record as a repeat offender, warning: “To bring the message home to the directors and shareholders of organisations which have offended negligently more than once before, a substantial increase in the level of fines, sufficient to have a material impact on the finances of the company as a whole, will ordinarily be appropriate. This may therefore result in fines measured in millions of pounds.”

Anne Brosnan, deputy director of legal services at the Environment Agency, said: “This sentence should act as a deterrent. In fact, the court said that it would have upheld a very substantially higher fine in this case.”

Illegal waste site gets £18k penalty

Recycling and skip-hire business Eastside 2000 (E2L) has been fined £18,000 for illegally storing waste at site in Hereford. E2L was also ordered to pay costs of £7,732. The firm pleaded guilty at Hereford magistrates’ court to storing demolition waste at the site, which has no environmental permit.

The court was told that, in June 2012, the Environment Agency ordered the waste to be removed. At the time, the agency agreed to halt legal action until the outcome of the planning application by E2L to build a waste washing facility at the site. Permission was refused in March 2013 and the agency reinstated its enforcement action. By the end of January 2014, the date for final compliance with the notice, agency officers found the site still contained around 12,000 tonnes of waste. By August 2014, half the waste remained. Magistrates ordered the site to be cleared within three months.

US utilities fined $68 million

Three subsidiaries of the Duke Energy Corporation, the largest utility in the US, have pleaded guilty to violations of the Clean Water Act at facilities in North Carolina. The firms were fined $68 million and agreed to spend $34 million on environmental projects and land conservation to benefit rivers and wetlands in North Carolina and Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency said four of the nine charges relate to the spill of coal ash from a steam station into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina, in February 2014. The remaining related to historical violations at other facilities.


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