water and fishThe Glastonbury Festival has admitted causing a drop in water quality in a stream close to the festival’s site, after a sewage tank sprung a leak during the 2014 event. CMU Daily reported that Michael Eavis and the Festival’s Operations Director, Christopher Edwards, both appeared in court in Yeovil after a prosecution was brought against the event by the Environment Agency for breaches of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010.

Accepting that “significant” harm had been caused, the Festival challenged the levels of damage claimed by the Environment Agency – and in particular the death of protected brown trout. Representing the festival, Kerry Gwyther said an environmental report found the stream had a history of being of a “poor quality”. Of the 42 dead fish, 39 were recorded downstream and only 10 of these were brown trout, he said.They also disputed that a fine of up to £300,000 should be levied, based on the Festival’s turnover of £37 million that year, saying that the festival’s profit was actually £84,000 before tax. The Festival donates a large proportion of its annual profit to charity with three lead charities, Greenpeace, WaterAid and Oxfam all receiving six figure sums.

In a statement, the Festival acknowledged the 2014 incident, and also a further incident in 2015 relating to festival goers urinating in ditches and highlighting the festivals own environmental efforts, they said “Regretfully however, during the last two festivals (in 2014 and 2015) some pollution has unintentionally made it into the stream running through the site, due to issues including a faulty tank and through festival goers urinating on the land”.

The statement continued: “With the causes already identified and analysed, Glastonbury Festival continues to work with all stakeholders, including the Environment Agency, on ways to prevent and safeguard against any problems in the future. Substantial improvement work on the site’s infrastructure has already begun and will continue over the coming months. At the same time, the festival will again work rigorously with all of its contractors and staff to raise awareness of the environmental issues involved and the importance of preventing further incidents”.

Courts are now taking a very dim view on environmental offences: Recently a record fine was levied on Thames Water for a recent water pollution case – supporting the conclusion that ‘very large’ companies are likely to experience increasingly high levels of fines for environmental non-compliance. Thames were fined £1 milllion for repeated discharge of sewage into a branch of the Grand Union canal in contravention of its Environmental Permit.

This follows on from the 2014 Sentencing Guidelines which were brought in to provide greater transparency around the level of fines for environmental non-compliance. The starting point for determining an appropriate level of fine is based on the size of the company (where a ‘large’ company is defined as having a turnover of £50 million or greater), the extent of harm caused and the culpability of the company. Other factors are also taken into account, for example if the company has a history of repeat offending this would be an aggravating factor leading to an upward adjustment to the fine, whereas if the company can show an effective compliance programme in place, this would be a mitigating factor and the level of fine would be adjusted downwards.

However, the guidelines make no prescriptive recommendation for an appropriate level of starting point for ‘very large’ companies, except to state that, if a defendant company’s turnover greatly exceeds the threshold for large companies, …‘it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence’. Other defendants in recent cases included  INEOS Chlor and Southern Water

Judge Bright QC  explained his fine on Thames Water:

‘The time has now come for the courts to make it clear that very large organisations such as (Thames Water) really must bring about the reforms and improvements for which they say they are striving because if they do not the sentences passed upon them for environmental offences will be sufficiently severe to have a significant impact on their finances’.

Sue Gregson, environmental consultant at International Workplace, commented ‘these guidelines potentially affect all businesses. Having an effective management system in place which is properly implemented, operated and monitored, will reduce the risk of incidents and provide significant mitigation should a prosecution occur’.