Cornwall: Dairy giant fined £1.5m for dumping sewage into river

UKRAINE - 2019/03/07: In this photo illustration the Dairy Crest Group plc company logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Dairy Crest admitted 21 felonies related to pollution and odor incidents at Truro Crown Court (Image: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Food giant Dairy Crest has been fined more than £1.5million for repeatedly dumping illegal amounts of sewage into a river system in Cornwall.

Davidstow Creamery in North Cornwall is the UK’s largest dairy, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, processing 1.3 million liters of milk a day from 370 dairy farms.

But between 2016 and 2021, the site regularly breached the terms of its permits, which allowed it to pump sewage into the River Inny, a tributary of the Tamar.

During that time it was operated by Dairy Crest, now known as Saputo Dairy UK, which made a profit of £21m last year.

The site had its own wastewater treatment plant, but struggled to cope with increased wastewater volumes when it added a “probiotic” dairy facility to its operations in 2014.

It exceeded the legal discharge limits for phosphorus, ammonium nitrate, suspended matter and oxygen levels.

The dairy also exposed local residents to overpowering odors, so strong that people avoided leaving their homes.

In December, Dairy Crest admitted to 21 felonies in Truro Crown Court relating to pollution and odor incidents.

Davidstow Creamery - A famous Cornish dairy was killing fish by discharging waste into local rivers and stinking local residents with their smells. Davidstow Creamery, near Camelford, makes the well-known Cathedral City Cheddar cheese and for several years from 2016 was responsible for discharges and odor problems that led to fish kills in the River Inny. The company that owns Davidstow Creamery, Dairy Crest Ltd, is being convicted by Truro Crown Court after entering guilty pleas to 21 counts relating to pollution and odor incidents and permitting violations at Davidstow Creamery. Eleven of the allegations acknowledged by the firm relate to the company's breach of environmental permits when discharging waste into the River Inny. Other offenses include breaching odor permits and another because the company waited more than a month to notify the Environment Agency of discharge breaches. Thousands of trout died as a result of the events at Davidstow Creamery. Another charge said the company allowed discharges that resulted in water being toxic or harmful to fish. The Canadian-owned Dairy Crest has since said it has made significant efforts to address the issues at issue in the case. The court heard people nearby speaking of how their lives were severely affected by the foul stench emanating from the dairy. A statement from Mr Potter, who lives in Trewassa, said:

Sewage was repeatedly dumped into a Cornish river system from Davidstow Creamery (Image: Cornwall Live/BPM MEDIA)

It also admitted to causing two serious incidents that devastated the local river ecosystem.

In August 2016, a powerful biocide was released to clean the sewage tanks and plumbing, killing thousands of fish along a 2 km stretch of the river.

It also pleaded guilty to releasing amounts of suspended debris in August 2018 that blanketed a 5km stretch of the River Inny in black mud.

Dairy Crest also admitted that it failed to notify the Environment Agency within 24 hours on seven occasions when something went significantly wrong.

Judge Simon Carr, who fined the company £1.52million on Thursday, said there was evidence of a poor management culture at the company.

Judge Carr cited evidence that those in charge of the sewage plant felt “intimidated and bullied” by their manager.

“That meant they didn’t feel like raising concerns as they would be personally criticized if limits were breached or exceeded,” he said.

Judge Carr further noted that one of the major violations resulting in damage to the ecosystem “was the result of one of the employees placing material in one of the tanks that was totally inappropriate and unauthorized”.

But he added: “After a careful reading of the documentation, it doesn’t appear to be a widespread or systemic issue, (but) it was an issue that should have been addressed by senior management sooner.”

Judge Carr added that the troubles continued for many years and “devastated the lives of those who lived nearby”.

The company was ordered to pay the full fine within 28 days and the court heard it had previously agreed to pay the £273,000 court costs.

In a statement, Dairy Crest said: “Once again, the company would like to sincerely apologize to those affected.

“Considerable work has been done to correct the historical issues to which the prosecution was referring.”

It continues: “The company continues to invest significant resources in the best technologies, processes and people to further improve its environmental performance and minimize its impact on the local community.

“As the largest employer in North Cornwall, the company remains committed to supporting its local communities and becoming a better neighbor.”

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Justin Scacco

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