United Utilities Plc caused the deaths of several hundred trout after sewage overflowed from its outfall into the river Beal in the north of England, the court said. The company was fined £7,000 and had to pay a further £4,673 in costs.

A member of the public alerted the Environment Agency to the sewage spill in July of last year. One of the EA’s employees sent to the site spotted two of UU’s contractors gathering dead trout from the river. It later emerged they were acting on a note from the company that read “dead fish need removing.”

The water company said it had not intended to hide the dead fish from the EA or from the public, and that the note had been issued due to “inexperience.”

The EA responded by saying that it is United Utilites’ responsibility to ensure that its staff receive are properly trained. Removing the dead fish was “illegal and could have interfered with the Environment Agency’s investigation,” the agency said.

A piece of plywood blocking the outfall is believed to have caused the sewage spill, leading to a dramatic drop in oxygen levels which can lead to fish suffocating.

The £7,000 the company has to pay will be invested in improving habitats, rather than replacing the dead trout as the company had suggested, because introducing trout from external sources can interfere with existing stock, the EA explained.

EA fishery and recreational technical officer Nigel Taylor said: “Further checks revealed that at least 400 fish had been killed, along with many more in places too inaccessible for us to be able to count them.

“The dead trout were mature fish and would have gone on to breed later that year. Smaller creatures such as mayfly larvae, freshwater shrimp and caddis larvae were also killed.”

This is the third time United Utilites, which manages water systems in the north-west of England, has been prosecuted this year.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie