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The company’s equipment at the farm near Mere.

Waste management company, Cleansing Services Group Ltd, was yesterday fined more than £72,000 after it treated sewage without a permit, despite knowing that they were acting illegally.

Based in Fareham, Hampshire, the company operates throughout the country. They appeared before Bristol Magistrates’ Court yesterday for sentencing on a charge of failing to comply with an exemption for the storage of sewage sludge, brought by the Environment Agency. They were fined £72,127 and ordered to pay £9,827.15 in costs and £180 statutory surcharge. The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

The court heard that the company was contracted to treat sewage waste at Kingsdown Farm in Longbridge Deverill near Mere. An investigation by the Environment Agency during October 2020 found that the company did not have the legally required permits to screen sewage before it entered tanks ready for spreading on land. A skip at the farm contained sewage ‘rag’, including gloves and plastic. The landowner was not involved in the work and was unaware of the unpermitted screening activities.

In a written submission, the company accepted that no permit was in place at the site for the screening and removal of debris before storage and later injection of the sludge into the land. They described this as an ‘oversight’.

But, the company had previously applied for a judicial review of what constituted treatment requiring a permit in relation to S.3 exemptions and whether the removal of rag was in fact a treatment requiring a permit.

In a judgment handed down in February 2019, Lord Justice Rafferty concluded: ‘The screening process carried out by the claimant to remove debris from the sludge is unquestionably a form of treatment’ and that, in his view, it was not particularly burdensome to arrange for the screening of debris in sludge at an appropriately permitted treatment facility.

Stephanie Marriott of the Environment Agency said following the court hearing: ‘Cleansing Services Group operates nationwide, and as a large company that had gone to the trouble of applying for a judicial review knew full well they were acting illegally at this farm.

‘As a regulator, the Environment Agency will not hesitate to pursue companies that fail to meet their obligations to the environment.’

A spokesperson for CSG said: ‘We fully accept that a managerial oversight involving a local, single tanker operation meant we did not have the required permit at this site. We consequently pleaded guilty at the first possible opportunity and accept the fine.

‘This fine was due to the absence of a permit and furthermore the judge confirmed Category 4 harm – the lowest possible level. The severity of the fine was principally due to CSG being considered a large business with a high turnover.

‘In handing down the sentence, the judge acknowledged that we had not sought to seek financial gain by not having a permit.

‘The judge also acknowledged CSG’s exemplary record and that, despite nearly 90 years in the sewage business, we have never before been fined for our sewage practices.

‘The judge also complimented CSG on our accreditations, customer training and awareness programmes and our £2m investment in enhanced treated biosolid plants.

‘We are fully committed to operating to the very highest standards and within all regulations and will continue to do so right across the country.’

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