Updated Mar 2, 2022

Leaked report reveals EA downgrading prosecutions

A recently leaked report seen by the Guardian showed that 93% of prosecutions for serious pollution events carried out by the Environment Agency were downgraded, resulting in lower fines for the polluters, despite recommendations for not doing so from the frontline staff.

Between April 2016 and December 2020, investigators found that the Environment Agency aimed to prosecute 495 cases of serious pollution incidents, involving discharge to rivers and coastal waters as well as serious waste crimes. However, following the intervention by the managers, only 35 serious pollution cases were prosecuted, with the remaining being dealt with by less severe measures, such as lower fines, warning letters, or were ultimately dropped altogether with no further action.

According to the report, investigations of the highest categories of waste pollution, including those perpetrated by individuals involved in organised waste crime, should lead to prosecutions in 386 cases, however, only 4% of them were prosecuted. The rest were downgraded to a caution, enforcement notice, warning letter or just marked for no further action.

Investigation of serious water pollution incidents in rivers and coastal waters resulted in only 21 prosecutions for 109 cases identified. Those incidents likely involved permit breaches by water companies which could lead to raw sewage discharges and other water pollution.

This damning publication comes after the Environment Agency staff claimed that the Agency has been so severely cut back on funding and staffing, it cannot effectively investigate and prosecute for the breaches and having to ignore low-impact incidents (category 3 or 4), despite the recent claims by the government that they aim to tackle pollution criminals.