Glastonbury Festival fined £31,000 after leak of human waste kills protected fish

A district judge found the festival had low culpability for the incident, saying he was ‘bemused by the vigour and energy’ put into the case

Claire Hayhurst
Tuesday 24 May 2016 19:11
More than 4km of the river was affected by the leak during the festival in June 2014
More than 4km of the river was affected by the leak during the festival in June 2014

Glastonbury Festival has been ordered to pay £31,000 after human waste from the site polluted a nearby stream, killing protected fish.

Whitelake River was contaminated with 20,000 gallons of untreated sewage after a steel tank used to store waste from festival-goers sprung a leak in June 2014.

More than 4km of the river was affected, resulting in the death of at least 42 fish including brown trout and bullhead, a protected European species.

The Environment Agency spent £34,236.81 prosecuting Glastonbury Festival, which admitted breaching environmental regulations.

District Judge Simon Cooper found the festival had low culpability for the incident, adding that he was “bemused by the vigour and energy” put into the case.

He fined the festival, which appeared in court for five days of legal hearings, £12,000 and ordered it to pay £19,000 towards prosecution costs.

“I am concerned that these proceedings have set the Environment Agency somewhat against Glastonbury Festival Limited,” the judge said.

“I am satisfied that there was proper planning for the festival and no criticism is made of that.

”The Environment Agency were in an advisory capacity and signed off the sanitary facilities plan. There was a waste management plan, there was a rivers and streams management plan.

“I am bemused at the vigour and energy that has been put into this detailed analysis of what happened much after the event.”

Glastonbury Festival pleaded guilty to the offence, contrary to the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, in January.

A two-day hearing took place at Bristol Magistrates' Court this week to determine whether the festival was negligent and its level of culpability.

The court heard staff from the festival went to investigate after sensors detected a spike in pollution levels of the river at 1am on 29 June. They did not call an Environment Agency hotline, which may have resulted in an officer coming to help ascertain the cause of the leak.

“They would have been unimpeachable had they done so,” the judge added.

EA officers attended at 9am and discovered a leak in a join between the steel plates and base of one of three large tanks used to store human waste.

The tank, at nearby Steanbow Park Farm in Pilton, Somerset, was installed and operated by Glastonbury Festival.

Prosecuting, Andrew Marshall said: “The leak went into the River Whitelake. It had a significant impact on that river.

”There was a death of a number of fish in levels that would not be significant except that the Somerset Levels is a preserved community of fish.“

At least 42 fish, including 29 bullhead, 10 brown trout and three stone loach, were killed. No trout survived.

Representing the festival, John Cooper described its response as ”absolutely correct“.

He said the festival, which had a population of 170,000 during the 2014 event, had a turnover of about £37 million but a net profit of £84,000 due to charitable giving.

”It is a unique business to come before the courts,“ Mr Cooper said.

”It is almost the antithesis of what one sees when sentencing a corporate defendant.“

The sentence took into account an incident last year in which waste from tanks for the long drop toilets filtered into the water course.

Speaking after the case, Ian Withers of the Environment Agency said: ”The festival is held in a beautiful part of the Somerset countryside and we want to see it remain that way.

“This was a serious pollution incident that had a significant impact on water quality and the fish population of the Whitelake River over some distance.”

Mr Eavis, dressed in a smart pinstripe suit, said the festival had heavily invested to prevent future leaks.

“I don't really think it was necessary to get this far. We pleaded guilty to make it easier for them yet they still wanted to pursue this case,” he added.

“I think it was a bit of a waste of time, to be honest with you. It wasn't that serious a crime really.

”We did our very, very best when we found the leak - we really did all that we should have done within the timescale.

“We're putting together the biggest show in the world in four weeks' time.”


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