Environment Agency’s chief prosecutor considers use of specialist investigation teams

Since his post was created in June 1999, the Environment Agency's (EA) chief prosecutor has been promoting national consistency in the Agency's response to environmental crime. Next on the agenda may be the introduction of specialised investigators.

David Stott was appointed the EA’s chief prosecutor in June and his role includes using his “ingenuity” to come up with new ideas as well as helping out on “awkward” cases. Prior to this appointment, Stott worked for the EA as an environmental prosecutor in the North East. Before he moved to the EA, Stott was a chief crown prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service.

With the EA’s general policy on environmental crime issued in January 1999 and specific policies for different sectors published in October, Stott has spent his first months as chief prosecutor ensuring that policy is communicated to the EA’s 3,000 officers. “The training commitment has been huge,” he admits.

Stott denies that the process of formalising and disseminating information on the EA’s policy on environmental crime will increase the overall number of prosecutions. “The Agency prosecutes about 700 to 800 cases a year,” says Stott. “The main aim now is to achieve consistency, as much as is possible.” This means that the EA wants to see an end to regional disparities – where one region may be considered lenient on environmental crime and another unnecessarily harsh. Stott acknowledges that although the number of prosecutions should not increase, certain regions or sectors within regions may see more court cases.

The next piece of guidance Stott is working on regards how EA officers should carry out investigations. The document will be published in the New Year, and training will be included.

Stott believes that keeping EA officers up to date on how best to investigate environmental crime is more difficult than training police officers. “General crime is a lot more prevalent than environmental crime,” explains Stott. EA officers don’t encounter the same type of environmental crime on a regular basis, so specialist ability and experience takes some time to develop. It’s a situation that may warrant the introduction of specialist investigation teams, according to Stott. He believes it may be useful to bring EA investigators from outside a specific case’s region if the outside investigator has relevant experience. Currently, officers work only within their own region. “We’ve got to be flexible,” says Stott.

Stott is also looking forward to advice from the Home Office’s Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP). Created in July 1999, SAP has been asked to advise the Court of Appeal on a range of areas. Stott is pleased that SAP’s first job is advising on environmental offences. “It shows how far up the political agenda the environment is,” says Stott.

“The Agency feels that, in general, sentences [for environmental crime] are low and that they could be stiffer,” states Stott, who believes this is the case because environmental law is comparatively new and because courts do not see as many environmental crime cases as they do general crime. The EA is hoping that SAP’s recommendations to the Court of Appeal – expected in January 2000 with the Court of Appeal’s decision on SAP suggestions planned for March 2000 – will lead to sentencing consistency and higher fines.

In the meantime, Stott is enjoying his work. As Christmas approaches there appears to be no let-up – he is busy assisting in the EA’s case against chemical company Sarb UK.

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