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Fish Legal taking Southern Water to the Criminal Courts

18th July 2023

We’ve started a private prosecution against Southern Water for polluting the river Test in Hampshire.

A Summons has been served on the water company at its head office.  The charges relate to pollution entering the Test from a Southern Water outfall at Nursling Industrial Estate near Southampton.

What is a private prosecution?

A private prosecution is a criminal prosecution commenced by a person or organisation instead of a public prosecuting authority.  It is started by laying a charge sheet, referred to as an ‘Information’, in a Magistrates’ Court.

We laid an Information at West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court and the court gave us permission to proceed. 

The Summons served on Southern Water informed them that a first hearing has been listed at West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court in September.

Why isn’t the Environment Agency prosecuting?

Pollution has been entering the Test from Nursling Industrial Estate for decades without any effective enforcement action being taken by the Environment Agency.   

In March, we made the regulator aware that were stepping in to take our own private prosecution against Southern Water relating to diesel pollution from their outfall in 2021 and 2022 in the absence of any sign of effective regulatory action.

Why are we taking this case?

The River Test is a rare chalkstream habitat, one of only around 200 such rivers in the world.  

It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest home to wild Atlantic salmon, otters, water voles, brook lamprey and bullhead but less than 18% of it is in ‘favourable’ condition. The section between Romsey and the estuary, the focus of the criminal case, is currently classified as ‘unfavourable’ due to polluting discharges.  

Wild salmon migrate into the River Test to spawn.  We want to protect them. 

We have members on the River Test who have for years been calling on both the Environment Agency and Southern Water to stop the pollution at the site.

Fish Legal exists to give anglers the legal tools and backing to fight to protect and restore the waters where they fish.   With a network of 1000+ angling clubs and fishery members throughout the UK, our in-house environmental lawyers specialise in bringing civil actions against polluters and challenging decisions made by government, local authorities and other public bodies that fail to protect fish and the water environment.

However, on this occasion, we believe bringing our own private prosecution is the most effective way of stopping the pollution to protect this iconic river.

While preparing this case, we asked the Environment Agency how many prosecutions it has started in the last 5 years.  It comes as no surprise to us that prosecutions have fallen year on year since 2018, with only 33 water quality prosecutions started last year. 

Prosecutions commenced, incident type by calendar year. Water QualityTotal
Environment Agency data

We do not intend to make a habit of bringing private prosecutions against polluters.  It’s not our job.  But we think this is an important case to take.

Is this a case about sewage pollution?

No, this case does not involve sewage or wastewater pollution. But it shows that water companies are responsible for all sorts of assets that should be fit for purpose and maintained to prevent any pollution of rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

How is the case being funded?

Fish Legal’s actions are funded by membership subscriptions, donations, legacies and any legal costs that we can recover in successful legal cases.

Legacies are left to Fish Legal by people who wanted their love for rivers and their passion to fight for them to live on.  For more information about leaving a legacy to Fish Legal please email [email protected]

Is Fish Legal a part of the Angling Trust?

The Angling Trust is recognised by the Government as the National Governing Body for angling in England and partner with Visit Wales and Natural Resources Wales to promote Fishing in Wales. Fish Legal is a separate organisation which operates across the UK, advising and representing its members in legal action to protect and restore the water environment and fisheries.

Fish Legal has a separate Chair and governing committee to the Angling Trust board.

It was a decision of the Fish Legal Committee to take this private prosecution. 

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