The case is believed to be the first of its kind to have been taken to the Crown Court. It was brought jointly by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF).
Agrochemical distributor Chemiculture Ltd was charged with four offences of supplying pesticides in breach of section 16(2)(a) of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 and section 4(3)(a) of the associated Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986. The offences all occurred in 1991. Three involved the supply of pesticides which did not have official approvals, while the fourth was a labelling offence.
The other two offences concerned breaches of storage conditions imposed under the same legislation at the firm's sites in Leamington Spa and Pontefract. At the former, large quantities of pesticides, including some held in damaged containers, were found outside a bunded area. At Pontefract several breaches of storage conditions were involved, including record-keeping, ventilation, segregation and bunding requirements, and a failure to have a competent person on site.
At a hearing before Warwick Crown Court, Chemiculture pleaded guilty to all six charges, as did its Director, Barry Green. However, extensive mitigating submissions were made by the defendants.
In respect of the storage offence at Leamington Spa, for example, the company claimed that the pesticides found outside the bunded area were being held there temporarily pending improvements to its pesticide store. As for the supply offences, the company argued that in one case it had received the pesticide in question from another supplier registered under the pesticide distributors' BASIS scheme and hence had assumed that it was dealing with an approved product, while in another case the pesticide concerned was identical in formulation to an approved product and hence posed no significant risk.
Although the HSE and MAFF had evidently concluded that the offences were sufficiently serious to warrant more than the maximum fine of £2,000 available to a magistrates court, the judge at Warwick Crown Court felt otherwise, commenting that the offences were of a technical nature and could have been dealt with by magistrates.
On 25 June, Chemiculture was fined a total of £200 for three of the supply offences, and given an absolute discharge for the fourth. The two storage offences attracted fines of £200 apiece. Mr Green was fined £10 for each of the five offences on which the company was fined. No costs were awarded against the defendants. The outcome is likely to have been a severe disappointment to the authorities, and may force them to review their prosecution policy.