On 6 August 1996, an Environment Agency officer visited McDonald's Alconbury site in response to a public complaint. The firm's sewage treatment plant was not working, and the watercourse contained foul-smelling silt and sewage fungus.
The Agency inspected the plant again on 15 August and found it was still not working. McDonald's gave assurances that it would be fixed, but a third inspection in April this year revealed that it was still not operating correctly.
The company appeared before Huntingdon magistrates on 23 July to plead guilty to three offences of knowingly permitting polluting matter to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991. The court heard that the brook provided drinking water for livestock downstream but had been rendered unfit for use.
McDonald's mitigation lasted 90 minutes as it gave a blow-by-blow account of its efforts to fix the plant. The company was fined £2,000 per offence and ordered to pay the Agency's legal costs of £2,279.
ENDS understands that McDonald's initially pleaded not guilty although there was little prospect of a successful defence. The company suddenly changed its plea after the result of its record-breaking libel trial was announced in June.