An angling club whose fisheries were devastated by a major pollution has been unable to move forward with its own legal action against those responsible due to a lack of transparency by Natural Resources Wales. Working with Fish Legal, The Gwent Angling Society had wanted to explore bringing a civil claim against the polluters who killed tens of thousands of fish along five kilometres of the Afon Llynfi, a tributary of the River Wye, in July 2020. The catastrophic pollution followed a similar event in 2016 which also resulted in a major fish kill.
During its investigations into the 2020 incident, Natural Resources Wales followed standard procedure and withheld all the information gathered so that a potential criminal case was not prejudiced. On 29 October 2021, they announced that no prosecution or other enforcement action would be taken in connection with the pollution incident.
In normal circumstances, the environmental regulator would then make the case file available to the public, including anybody considering taking legal action against the suspected polluter. Since taking the decision not to prosecute, however, Natural Resources Wales has withheld information collected on the incident, except for some heavily redacted documents, despite repeated requests for it from Fish Legal.
Geoff Hardy, Fish Legal solicitor said: “It is not clear to us why Natural Resources Wales appear unwilling to release the full details of their investigation. After escalating the matter to their CEO, Claire Pilman, in May 2022 we were asked to give assurances that we were not considering taking a private prosecution against anyone in connection with the pollution incident. This is extraordinary. The only conclusion we can come to from this is that Natural Resources Wales are worried that Fish Legal will take a prosecution when they failed to do so or that the information they hold will reveal a sub-standard investigation. Either outcome would be very embarrassing for them.”
He added: “In any event, no full case file has ever been supplied which leaves our members in a position where information that may have enabled them to pursue those responsible for the pollution using the civil law are prevented from doing so.”
Dr David Collins from Gwent Angling Society said: “Our fishing club believes that it is only a matter of time before a repeated pollution occurs in the Llynfi, and our fisheries and the lower river destroyed for a third time. Natural Resources Wales’s failure to prevent past pollution and to prosecute those responsible has meant there is no incentive for the polluter not to repeat their actions, causing our club members significant anxiety. In addition, not revealing what NRW found in its investigations has so far put paid to our hopes of pursuing those responsible for damages, which could be used to help restore the river and its fish and wildlife. After another six months’ delay following our request, we still expect NRW to share its remaining evidence with us”.