The client who produces several well known UK and International Brands in the food and drink sector has a turnover of circa £400 Million and was accused of discharging trade effluent to a sewer that was out of consent. The numerous charges went onto allege that the discharge had caused a catastrophic impact on the Water Company’s treatment works such that there was a loss of treatment and resultant fish kill of several thousand fish over around 10 miles of river.
The pollution incident was the lead item on the Regional News and also received national press attention.
The charges and case as put by the prosecution made it clear the Company would face a fine of circa £1.6 Million under the Sentencing Council Guidelines as a negligent Category 1 impact offence. In addition to a fine there would be the obvious reputational damage to their brands if found guilty. The client was however clear in that if they had caused the problem, they would face the consequences of their actions.
The Water Company prosecuting the case were obviously also under investigation by the Environment Agency and it did not take long to realise that the logic and evidence chain being used to support the alleged offending were tenuous. Other sources of similar effluent had not been ruled out and several key components of the effluent sampled at the works and in the river simply did not match the client’s (defendant’s) discharge.
After extensive work on the pollutants present in the river via a trade effluent profile study, a HAZOP study and some further fault tree analysis work, it became increasingly clear the site could not have released the problematic effluent. But how do you prove you are innocent once already charged. Several months of legal work followed with an excellent UK law firm obtaining full disclosure of the evidence held. Once again it became clearer and clearer that another site nearby was a more likely match to the offence. Unlabelled sample bottles, missed sampling opportunities, miss conceptions and even some laboratory errors had all contrived to lay a false evidence trail to the client’s door.
Following a full ‘Joint Expert’s Meeting’ required by the Court the prosecution expert agreed that the evidence trail was not sufficient and even that it was more likely than not from the alternative site postulated. All charges were dropped after the meeting with the prosecution’s lead expert.