Environmental crime: more than 40 councils in England and Scotland prosecuted for pollution

Councils should be stewards of their environments. But as part of a week-long investigation into environmental crime we reveal which English and Scottish councils have been prosecuted for polluting the natural world.

More than 40 councils across England and Scotland have been prosecuted for environmental crimes over the last two decades, exclusive NationalWorld analysis reveals.

Ranging from pollution of waterways to disposing of waste illegally, the historical crimes have resulted in councils being slapped with £386,100 worth of fines.

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A chemical called Tributyltin entered the River Blackwater in 2002 in Essex which resulted in a major incident. Image: Shutterstock
A chemical called Tributyltin entered the River Blackwater in 2002 in Essex which resulted in a major incident. Image: Shutterstock

Earlier this week we revealed how water companies were the biggest culprits when it comes to environmental crime.

Now we can expose which councils have also been prosecuted for polluting England and Scotland’s environments – and had to stump up taxpayers’ money in retribution.

The offending councils

The councils were all prosecuted by the two nations’ environment watchdogs – the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) respectively – between January 2000 and May or June 2020.

Birmingham City Council has been prosecuted the greatest number of times in England. Image: Shutterstock

NationalWorld’s analysis of Environment Agency data reveals 33 English councils have been prosecuted for environmental crime since 2000.

In total, there have been 42 separate prosecutions relating to 59 charges, resulting in fines of £329,000. A single prosecution can involve multiple charges.

Birmingham City Council has been prosecuted the greatest number of times – three times for three separate offences. It has been fined a total £34,500.

Braintree District Council had the greatest single fine for a charge – £50,000, issued in 2006 for an offence under Section 85 (1) of the Water Resources Act 1991. The incident occurred in 2002 when a chemical called Tributyltin – a substance which is highly toxic to marine life, once used as a barnacle-repellent paint on ships before a global ban in 2008 – entered the River Blackwater in Essex. The Environment Agency data shows the incident was placed in the highest category of harm for environmental crime, meaning it caused a “major, serious, persistent or extensive impact” on the environment, people or property.

The council and the two companies responsible for the spillage were fined.

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In Scotland, eight councils have been prosecuted 13 times since 2000 with fines amounting to £57,100, according to prosecution data released from SEPA under an Environmental Information Regulation request.

Dumfries and Galloway Council and Glasgow City Council have been prosecuted the greatest number of times – three each.

Glasgow City Council was fined a total £11,500 and Dumfries and Galloway Council was fined £9,000.

‘Deeply regret this incident happened’

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said: “All three of these cases occurred two decades ago.

"We always aim to learn from incidents such as these, which are very rare, to minimise future risk, as evidenced by the time that has elapsed since the last prosecution.”

The council claimed that being the largest council area in the country by population means they will “inevitably” come at or near the top of statistical tables relating to local authorities.

A Braintree District Council spokesperson said: “The chemical entered into the water course after a drum spilt at the Anglia Cargo Terminal in Coggeshall. We were asked to attend the site, about a month after the spillage, to unblock the drains after flash flooding had occurred in the area. Unfortunately, the chemical was still present in the drainage system when we went to unblock the drains and it was flushed into the local river.

"We care about the health of our rivers and deeply regret that this incident happened.”

Glasgow City Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council were also approached for comment.

Council Number of times prosecuted Fines
Aberdeen City Council 1 £6,600
Aberdeenshire Council 2 £18,000
Bedfordshire County Council 1 £12,000
Birmingham City Council 3 £34,500
Blackburn With Darwen Borough Council 1 £10,000
Braintree District Council 1 £50,000
Cornwall County Council 1 £1,000
Devon County Council 1 £5,000
Dumfries and Galloway Council 3 £9,000
Durham County Council 2 £10,000
East Riding Of Yorkshire Council 1 £18,000
Glasgow City Council 3 £11,500
Hampshire County Council 1 £3,000
Hyndburn Borough Council 1 £5,000
Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council 1 £5,000
Mid Devon District Council 1 £3,000
New Forest District Council 1 £6,000
Newcastle City Council 1 £25,000
North Cornwall District Council 1 £500
North Lanarkshire Council 1 £4,000
North West Leicestershire District Council 1 £7,500
Northamptonshire County Council 2 £32,000
Nottinghamshire County Council 2 £12,000
Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council 1 £0
Plymouth City Council 2 £10,000
Sheffield City Council 2 £7,500
Shetland Islands Council 1 £500
South Lakeland District Council 1 £10,000
South Norfolk Council 2 £3,500
Stirling Council 1 £7,500
Stockton Borough Council 1 £5,000
Swindon Borough Council 1 £7,000
Tendring District Council 1 £7,500
The Moray Council 1 £0
Thurrock Borough Council 1 £2,000
Vale Royal Borough Council 1 £5,000
Warrington Borough Council 1 £7,000
West Lindsey District Council 1 £5,000
West Sussex County Council 1


Winchester City Council 2 £1,000
Wokingham District Council 1 £18,000

Protecting England’s environment

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “We take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously. We respond to every incident reported to us and take strong enforcement action against those who break the rules. We use our monitoring to target interventions and justify investment.

“The regulations are clear and are enforced robustly – we will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account.”

Due to the historic nature of the crimes, SEPA declined to comment.

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