Tough sanctions for environmental offences

Prosecution for an environmental offence can have serious consequences for any business, not only in terms of criminal sanction (typically, a fine, but in the most serious of cases, imprisonment of company officers) but also damage to the organisation’s reputation and its future relationship with environmental regulators.

Food manufacturing and processing businesses could be at particular risk where waste is discharged (or accidentally leaks). The costs of environmental crime relating to the land are high, particularly as a result of tough sentencing guidelines introduced in 2014 which aimed to achieve greater consistency between courts in the imposition of sanctions

The cost of getting it wrong

A businessman was sentenced to 6 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and was ordered to pay £5,000 in costs after his poor environmental practices caused a waste fire which became a major incident for emergency crews.

A land owner and operator were fined £1.1million for illegally discharging waste into a river, caused by a system failure.

A landowner was fined over £19,000 for polluting a watercourse due to pollution from poor storage tanks. An argument based on insufficient funds to rectify the problem was rejected.

A company director was disqualified from acting as a company director for 5 years, ordered to pay £35,000 compensation to the landowner and carry out 250 hours of unpaid work for failure to observe environmental permitting laws.

A company was fined £497,284 and ordered to pay costs of £40,000 for two pollution offences one caused by a storage tank failure and one caused by a technical fault, both being breaches of permits.

A company was fined £1 million and ordered to pay costs of £243,955.35 for historic offences relating to waste stored and deposited on the land.

A company was fined £380,000 and ordered to pay costs of £23,092.64 for polluting a stream due to poor site management and breaches of environmental permits.

Offending over an extended period of time, or repeated incidents (in 43% of cases)

History of non-compliance (32%)

Offence committed for financial gain (25%)

Evidence of steps taken to remedy problem (cited in 48% of cases)

Self-reporting, co-operation and acceptance of responsibility (41%).

Impact on environmental offences

Practical steps

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.