Judge allows private prosecution of Southern Water over pollution claims

<span>Photograph: Dick Hawkes/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Dick Hawkes/Alamy

A judge has given permission for a private prosecution to go ahead against a water company accused over the pollution of one of the UK’s most cherished fishing rivers.

Southern Water will appear in court in February to face allegations linked to diesel pollution in the River Test in Hampshire.

The accusations relate to pollution allegedly entering the Test from an outfall operated by Southern Water at Nursling industrial estate near Southampton.

Penelope Gane, the head of practice at Fish Legal, which is bringing the prosecution, said on Friday: “We’re delighted that the judge has given our private prosecution against Southern Water the green light.

“Despite protests from both the Environment Agency and Southern Water, the judge could see no reason why Fish Legal should not go ahead with bringing its own criminal case against the water company.”

Gane described the Test as an “iconic chalk stream” and said the State of Nature report published this week showed action needed to be taken.

“We are determined to inject some urgency into stopping pollution on the River Test,” she said.

Fish Legal, previously known as the Anglers’ Conservation Association, accepts Southern Water was not the originator of the diesel but alleges it travelled through the company’s outfall.

During a hearing at Southampton magistrates court, Southern Water and the Environment Agency (EA) argued against the prosecution.

The EA has an official investigation ongoing and wanted the Fish Legal case to be adjourned until after that had been concluded, a position backed by the water company.

But the district judge Peter Greenfield said he could see no reason why the case should not proceed. “I think they are interesting arguments but there is a fundamental right to issue a summons,” he said.

Fish Legal said it had been forced to take the “unusual step” of bringing a private prosecution because pollution allegedly kept entering the Test.

Southern Water said: “At an administrative hearing, Fish Legal was granted permission to issue a summons against us. For legal reasons we can make no further comment.”

Previously it has said it was made aware of the release of diesel in the area of the Nursling industrial estate in June 2021. It said its teams worked quickly with other agencies to protect the watercourse, and that an EA investigation to trace the polluters had been launched. The EA is understood to be investigating another party.

The Test is famous for its trout fishing and is one of the most wildlife-rich areas of southern Britain.