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Record Powerday fines raise legal questions

The record fines and costs imposed on Powerday this month must have hit the company hard in the pocket. But just as crucially, the case scarred Powerday’s reputation and delivered a blow to other businesses in an industry not blessed with the best image – although probably higher than journalists, in fairness. 

The company broke the law and mistakes were made that could and should have been avoided but, as environmental specialist Laura Tainsh tells MRW, maintaining a 100% compliance record is virtually impossible. Powerday executives have had the case hanging over them for years and they will now be assessing how they can turn things around. 

The case was also notable for including an element to cover the ‘profit’ from the offences at Powerday’s Willesden site, as set out in updated sentencing guidelines. Fines of £350,000 per offence when defendants plead guilty are very significant, and it has been suggested to me by an observer they may be so big that future defendants will deny offences and gamble on an acquittal. That would surely be contrary to the principle of rewarding those who admit their crime at the outset. The Sentencing Council is currently consulting on reductions in sentences for guilty pleas because it is felt that too much leniency is being shown. It is certainly a difficult balance to achieve.

The case has raised concerns about transparency. MRW, like most media outlets in the sector, rarely goes to specific hearings and relies on press releases from the Environment Agency (EA) as the prosecuting authority. However, for the end of this protracted case, we did have a reporter in court who heard more discussion about how the “downstream consequences” would be portrayed publicly than the offences themselves. The EA press release, which took a full 48 hours to emerge, was rather more bland in its criticism than its usual statements.

It raises the question of the EA prosecuting its own cases, of possibly being too close to them and, ultimately, negotiating the public outcome. Perhaps the Crown Prosecution Service should take over in court, in the same way that the Scottish regulator Sepa passes cases on to the Procurator Fiscal north of the border.

  • Finally, those who know our associate editor Andrea Lockerbie will be as pleased as we were to learn she has had a second child, Isobel, and both are doing well.

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