Southern Water Pleads Not Guilty to Polluting the River Test

28th February 2024

Southern Water pleaded “not guilty” on Tuesday at Southampton Magistrates’ Court to four criminal charges of repeat pollution of the river Test in Hampshire being brought against them by Fish Legal in a private prosecution. 

The water company stands accused of failing to prevent pollution discharging into the river from one of its outfalls, which drains the surface water network from Nursling Industrial Estate.

The world-renowned 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 supporting Atlantic salmon, trout, otters, water voles, brook lamprey and bullhead but less than 18% of it is in ‘favourable’ condition. 

The water company will now face trial, with a trial date towards the end of the year. It was noted during the proceedings that Southern Water has a number of previous convictions.

George Graham, Chair of Fish Legal, said: “Feelings are running extremely high with anglers on the River Test at the moment.  We are angry that Southern Water appears to be dragging its feet on stopping the pollution of this fragile river. The ‘cathedral of flyfishing’ is fighting for its health.”

“Private prosecutions are relatively rare and this is not an action that Fish Legal would normally take against polluters.  But we’re prepared to go all the way with this case to protect an iconic chalkstream.  If Southern Water think that we’re going to shy away from a fight in the criminal courts they have misjudged us and the anglers on whose collective behalf we are taking this action”. 

Penelope Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal, said: “We’re surprised that Southern Water has chosen to contest what are clearly obvious wrongdoings here. By denying these charges, the company appears to be much more concerned about protecting its reputation than protecting the River Test.”

“We and the local angling groups just want the pollution to stop, it’s as simple as that.  We didn’t take the decision to prosecute this water company lightly, but if our action forces Southern Water to upgrade and maintain one of its assets that is a known source of pollution for the River Test it will have been worth it.”

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