St Regis has been fined almost £500,000 after misleading the Environment Agency (EA) over effluent discharges levels at its Higher Kings Mill site.
The EA brought the case which was heard at Exeter Crown Court. St Regis was fined £162,000 after it was convicted of 19 charges under environmental regulations. The Judge also ordered that £225,000 be paid under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which is the second highest amount demanded under this Act. In addition, £68,000 in court costs were ordered under the PPC Regulations 2000 including discharging waste effluent in excess of permitted levels, concealing illegal discharges from the Agency, failing to suitably train and equip staff and unlawfully changing the operation of its waste effluent treatment plant. It is the second-highest fine under the PPC Regulations.
In total, St Regis was fined £455,000. But the company is currently appealing the conviction, although a date for the hearing has not yet been set.
EA spokesperson Spence Seaman said: “The deliberate falsifying of records strikes at the cornerstone of our permitting system that is based on self regulation and self monitoring by the Operator.
“By presenting the performance of its effluent treatment plant as being better than it was, the company saved a considerable amount of money by not having to carry out major improvement works.
“We expect businesses to take their environmental responsibilities seriously and operate in accordance with the strict terms of their permits. If they don’t we take action and in serious cases will always seek to prosecute.”
Responding to the fine St Regis managing director Chris Rosser said: “This was an isolated case and the only time that the EA has brought charges against us or any of our mills.
“We fully admit that agreed procedures were not followed by some of the staff on the ground at Higher Kings. However, we continue to refute the allegation that we intentionally made a false entry in a required EA record and are appealing these charges and the associated fines.”
Its technical manager Christopher Steer has also been found guilty of manipulating recordings of the quality of effluent to make them look better than they were.
The case came about after the EA and St Regis communicated about stricter controls on effluent quality, which were due to come into force in 2005. To demonstrate a timetable of improvements to the EA, St Regis said following inquiries about treatment systems it had decided install an oxygenation system in an attempt to improve the quality of effluent discharged into the River Culm.
However, an EA officer noticed effluent quality results were “suspiciously close” to the permitted levels . When an officer asked to see copies of the 2007 record sheets he was told it was not possible because they ‘had been destroyed.’
An effluent sample taken on March 6, 2008 had a Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) level two and a half times above the permitted limit.
In order to further deceive the EA, the court heard that the company installed a freshwater dilution system to dilute effluent with river water before it reached the sampling point. This was kept secret from the EA.