Liability for water pollution offences

The principles governing the strict liability which attaches to water pollution offences were clarified by the Divisional Court this month. Southern Water Authority v Pegrum (Guardian Law Report, 22 February 1989) is thought to be the first recorded case in which the High Court has considered the key offence under Part II of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, and the result, which is in line with previous authority on earlier legislation, will give little comfort to defendants wishing to escape liability in this area.

The defendants, who are pig farmers, stored effluent from their animals in a lagoon which was normally emptied four or five times a year. But the wet summer of 1987 had prevented removal of sediment for some 18 months, causing storm drains to be clogged. A four-day period of rain had then led to an overflow of effluent which entered the river Medway.

The defendants were charged under section 31(1) of the 1974 Act, which provides that a pe

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