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Courts urged to issue higher fines for environmental pollution

The Environment Agency has today urged courts to issue tougher fines for businesses who pollute to help continue a downward trend in the number of serious incidents, such as the cyanide pollution of the River Trent last month.

The latest pollution statistics from the Environment Agency today reveal that the number of cases of serious pollution in England and Wales dropped 13 per cent from 827 in 2008 to 723 in 2007 – down 44 per cent from the 1,854 major incidents recorded in 2001. Yorkshire / North East and North West England were the regions with the highest number of serious incidents caused by industry in 2008.

The Environment Agency’s regulatory approach of targeting businesses and individuals whose activities have the highest environmental risks, or whose environmental track records are poor, has helped result in the continuing reduction of serious pollution incidents.

As the Environment Agency work with more and more businesses to help them comply with stringent environmental protection regulations, the organisation has warned that it will continue to prosecute those who pollute. It is today calling on courts to increase fines for pollution incidents to provide an even greater deterrent.

Last year, the Environment Agency successfully brought 722 cases against companies and individuals for environmental offences, resulting in fines and costs of £5.3 million. The average fine against companies in 2008 was £10,080 – up from £8,229 the previous year – encouraging evidence that the courts are recognising the growing seriousness of incidents which cause the most damage to the environment. Two of the biggest company fines were for Western Wines, Telford, who were forced to pay £225,000 for flouting packaging waste regulations and Anglian Water, who were fined £150,000 for repeated illegal discharging from sewage treatment works. The Midlands and the South West regions had the highest number of prosecutions for environmental offences in 2008.

The Environment Agency also brought several cases against individuals which resulted in custodial sentences. Patrick Anderson and James Kelleher pleaded guilty to dumping nearly 15,000 tonnes of rubbish in Essex and London and in June 2008 received sentences of 22 months and 14 months respectively. Harvey Gibson was jailed for a total of 32 months last October after being found guilty of dumping 85 tonnes of waste in a field near Reading, in addition to acting as a director of a business whilst being barred under the Companies Act.

Companies involved in the management of waste were responsible for a third (146) of all serious pollution incidents caused by businesses in 2008, mainly relating to air pollution from landfill or composting sites. Farms caused more than a quarter (113) of all industrial incidents, mainly linked to water pollution, whilst water companies were responsible for a sixth (61) of incidents, principally from sewage pumping stations, foul sewers and combined sewer overflows.

Serious incidents this year include last month’s cyanide pollution of the River Trent in which thousands of fish died. The Environment Agency is continuing its investigation into the incident after serving an official suspension notice on Red Industries Ltd of Stoke-on-Trent.

Speaking ahead of the Environment Agency’s annual conference next week, Chief Executive, Dr Paul Leinster, said:

"Major pollution incidents continue to reduce, thanks to more effective environmental regulation by the Environment Agency and efforts made by businesses to manage their activities better. We will continue to work with businesses and individuals to prevent incidents. But we will prosecute businesses and individuals where it is clear that they are not taking sufficient precautions. We want to see higher fines for pollution incidents to provide a greater deterrent. There are still an average of two serious pollution incidents a day and this is too many."

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