Case report: magistrates’ decision in Memory Lane Cakes pollution case

On 14 January 2022, Cardiff magistrates’ court sentenced Memory Lane Cakes Ltd for water pollution offences.

The Facts

In April 2019, a member of the public reported sewage type smells from the Wedal Brook in Heath Park, Cardiff, to officers of Natural Resources Wales. The officers found that wastewater from a bakery operated by Memory Lane Cakes Ltd was entering the stream from a pipe connected to an industrial dishwasher at the bakery. This had been wrongly connected to a surface water sewer instead of the foul sewer.

This resulted in 800 litres of dirty wash waters, including butter, sugar, flour and egg, flowing into the stream every day. Officers found 380 metres of the stream covered in sewage fungus. This is a hair-like bacterium which grows in polluted water. It had killed all life for hundreds of metres along the stream.

Memory Lane Cakes Ltd was prosecuted in Cardiff magistrates’ court by Natural Resources Wales.

Decision

Memory Lane Cakes Ltd produces pre-packed cakes for companies including Disney, Thorntons and Mary Berry. It is owned by the Finsbury Food Group, which runs bakery companies across the UK. The Cardiff company employs 850 people. Its site comprises five bakeries with nine production lines. The company was fined £26,300 after pleading guilty. This comprised £23,000 for polluting the stream and £3,300 for failing to provide information required by the waste regulation authority. It was also ordered to pay £13,000 costs and a £190 victim surcharge.

Comment

A spokesperson for Natural Resources Wales is reported to have made the following comments.

  • Misconnected waste pipes could end up polluting Wales’ rivers, damaging the environment and harming local wildlife.

  • By not ensuring that its waste pipes were not correctly connected, wastewater from the bakery polluted the Wedal Brook for a long time. This resulted in sewage fungus killing all life in the stream for hundreds of metres downstream.

  • It was hoped that the outcome of the prosecution of the company clearly demonstrated that anyone polluting Wales’ rivers would be pursued though the courts and could face large fines as a result of their actions.

  • Natural Resources Wales would continue its efforts to educate people and businesses about the impact which misconnected pipes could have on the environment.

A Memory Lane Cakes spokesperson said the following.

  • Memory Lane Cakes is committed to operating with integrity and care and takes its approach to waste management extremely seriously.

  • The company accepted responsibility for, and apologised for, a mistake made in 2019 which resulted in a small amount of bakery waste from one of its tray washing machines making its way into the mainline drain instead of being sent to its on-site trade effluent plant for processing.

  • Working alongside Natural Resources Wales, as soon as the issue was identified, an investigation was launched and the error was promptly corrected. The company believed that the level of harm caused to the environment by the incident was minimal.

  • In order to ensure that such an incident did not happen again, the company has since introduced a number of further measures on site.

Natural Resources Wales is a Welsh Government sponsored body. Its aim is to pursue sustainable management of natural resources and to apply the principles of sustainable management of natural resources as stated in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Its main functions include:

  • principal adviser to the Welsh Government, industry and the wider public in relation to issues of the environment and natural resources

  • regulator of the marine, forest and waste industries and the prosecution of offences

  • responder to 9000 reported environmental incidents each year

  • collaborator with the public, private and voluntary sectors, providing grant aid and helping a wide range of people to use the environment as a learning resource.

The main water pollution offences in England and Wales are set out in the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, regulations 12 and 38. Under the 2010 regulations it is an offence to cause or knowingly permit a water discharge activity unless it complies with an environmental permit or exemption.

Water discharge activities include:

  • discharging poisonous, noxious or polluting matter or solid waste matter into inland freshwater, coastal waters and relevant territorial waters

  • discharging trade or sewage effluent into inland freshwater, coastal waters and relevant territorial waters.

“Causing or knowingly permitting” does not involve knowledge or intention in relation to the water discharge. It is reported that courts take a broad approach in relation to causation.

Where an offence is prosecuted in the magistrates’ court, offenders can be subject to an unlimited fine and a maximum of twelve months imprisonment. In the Crown Court, the fine is also unlimited and the maximum term of imprisonment is five years.

It is a defence to a water discharge offence where the discharge was made in an emergency in order to avoid danger to public health, provided that reasonable steps were taken to minimise pollution and to promptly notify the regulator.