Tesco, Glastonbury, The Church of Scientology: big name companies prosecuted for polluting England's environment

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Some of the UK’s best-known companies have been prosecuted for environmental crimes. Here we reveal some of the biggest names who have polluted the environment.

Tesco Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Glastonbury Festival, The Church of Scientology – these are just a handful of some of the big corporate names prosecuted by the Environment Agency for polluting the country’s precious natural environment in recent years.

Earlier this week, we exclusively revealed how water companies were the biggest culprits for environmental crime.

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Now we can reveal some of the biggest household names to have been punished over the years, including one that was handed a £3m fine.

Tesco was prosecuted by the Environment Agency in 2017 and fined £3 million. Image: Shutterstock.Tesco was prosecuted by the Environment Agency in 2017 and fined £3 million. Image: Shutterstock.
Tesco was prosecuted by the Environment Agency in 2017 and fined £3 million. Image: Shutterstock.

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Dead fish, sickness and a Tesco petrol station

Outside of the water industry, supermarket giant Tesco has received the single largest fine for a charge relating to environmental crime in the last 20 years, according to official Environment Agency data covering January 2000 to May 2020.

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The 2017 prosecution was for an environmental offence which took place between 2 July and 3 July 2014, when approximately 23,500 litres of petrol escaped from the Tesco-operated petrol station in Haslingden, Lancashire. Around 7,000 litres were later recovered at the site but the rest leaked into the sewer system and watercourse.

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Odours from petrol that entered the sewerage system affected residents up to 1km away, causing them to seek medical attention for headaches and sickness.

It was a significant environmental incident that killed more than 40 fish, including brown trout, and other aquatic life.

The company was found guilty of committing an offence under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2016 and fined £3 million – more than any other retailer or company outside of the water industry.

We contacted Tesco but it declined to comment.

Named and shamed

Tesco is not alone.

The Environment Agency has prosecuted music festivals, drinks companies, high street clothing stores and even a well-known and controversial religious group for breaching environmental law.

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The agency generally uses prosecution as a last resort, and says it is a decision not taken lightly.

NationalWorld’s analysis found companies and organisations have been prosecuted almost 4,000 times over the last two decades for a wide range of crimes including radioactive leaks, waterway contamination, illegal fishing or mismanagement of fisheries, and damage to habitats.

Five of the more noteworthy offenders in recent years include:

- Glastonbury Music Festival has been prosecuted twice for environmental crimes. The most recent prosecution was in 2016 for pollution offences that saw 20,000 gallons of human sewage leak into the Whitelake River. The incident killed at least 42 fish including 29 bullhead – a European protected species – and “effectively wiped out the local trout population”, the Environment Agency said. The outcome was a £12,000 fine.

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- A division of the Church of Scientology was prosecuted in 2018 for leaking raw sewage into the River Medway in West Sussex, coating the riverbed with grey sewage fungus and killing invertebrates. The Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated was fined £14,000.

- Breakfast cereal manufacturer Weetabix was fined £112,000 in 2019 after polluting the River Ise in Northamptonshire with 23,000 litres of diesel fuel.

- Blackpool Pleasure Beach was fined £6,000 for six separate charges under one prosecution in 2010. The charges were for failing to comply with packaging regulations.

- The Red Bull Company was hit with a fine of more than £260,000 in 2009 for 16 charges over failing to register with the Environment Agency or recognised compliance scheme under new regulations for monitoring packaging waste handling and recycling

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The fines do not include any other financial penalties such as costs awarded to the Environment Agency.

‘We take strong enforcement action’

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.”

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