Saputo UK’s Dairy Crest business hit with ‘largest fine ever’ over environmental offences

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

An Environment Agency employee inspects the outfall at the River Inny / Pic: Environment Agency
An Environment Agency employee inspects the outfall at the River Inny / Pic: Environment Agency

Related tags Dairy crest Pollution

Saputo UK-owned Dairy Crest has been fined £1.5m – the ‘largest fine ever awarded’ for an Environment Agency conviction in the South West – for its ‘unacceptable’ environmental performance.

In a statement released by the Environment Agency, enforcement officials said the maker of brands including Cathedral City needs to ‘significantly improve’ on issues such as management of liquid waste, odour and environmental reporting. The case, with was heard in Truro Crown Court, focused on the management of the Davidstow Creamery in north Cornwall.

“Ever since the site changed production to focus on whey processing, particularly to produce powder used in baby milk and other products, the effluent being discharged into the River Inny has been more challenging to treat. This has resulted in unacceptable pollution of the local river, which is a tributary of the River Tamar, causing significant harm to fish and other aquatic wildlife. Another issue has been foul odours which have often affected the lives of local residents,”​ the Agency detailed.

Dairy Crest pleaded guilty to a catalogic of offences and received a fine of £1.52m plus additional costs.

A ‘historic issue’?

Responding to the fine Dairy Crest apologised and expressed regret at the harm caused by what the company termed a ‘historic issue’ dating back to 2016.

“The company would like to express its sincere apologies to those who have been affected. Considerable work has been undertaken to rectify the historic issues to which the prosecution related. The company continues to invest significant resources in the best technology, processes and people to further improve its environmental performance and minimise its impact on the local community,”​ Dairy Crest said in a statement.

However, delivering the sentence, HHJ Simon Carr expressed the view that he had not seen consistent performance evidenced by the company over a 5-year period. The judge identified a poor middle management culture as a contributing factor to the environmental harm caused. This, he insisted, should have been dealt with by senior management much sooner.

He said it felt like there was ‘never a time’ without a problem and some of those responsible for the wastewater treatment plant felt bullied and unable to come forward. Judge Carr added he had been ‘moved’ when reading testimony from residents whose lives had been ‘blighted’ by odours.

The Environment Agency also stressed that Dairy Crest’s environmental failings were catalogued over ‘many years’. “As a large and well-established operator, Dairy Crest Limited should be up to the job of maintaining the required environmental standards. Instead, it has over a period of many years failed to comply with its environmental permit and not been able to protect local people and the environment,”​ Helen Dobby, Area Director of the Environment Agency, said.

Dobby did note that the dairy processor is now ‘taking steps’ to ‘remedy the various problems’ but added ‘unfortunately, these actions were not swift enough on many occasions and proved to be ineffective in stopping pollution’.

“The Environment Agency remains deeply concerned about the environmental performance of this site and its impact on the environment. It will continue to monitor the situation and regulate this site closely and urges the operator to make the right decisions and level of investment on site to better protect the wildlife and people of Cornwall,”​ the enforcement body insisted.

The offences Dairy Crest pled guilty to include:

  • Releasing a harmful biocide, used to clean the wastewater tanks and pipework, into the river and killing thousands of fish over a 2 kilometre stretch on 16 August 2016.
  • Coating the River Inny with a noxious, black sludge for 5 kilometres in 2018, through a release of a mass of suspended solids in July and August 2018.
  • Consistently exceeding limits on substances like phosphorous and suspended solids entering the River Inny, from 2016 up to 2021.
  • Numerous leaks of part-treated effluent into nearby watercourses and onto the land.
  • Foul odours repeatedly affecting residents over many years.
  • Failing to tell the Environment Agency within 24 hours of when things had gone significantly wrong on site, on 7 separate occasions.

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