Tesco has been fined £8m, split between fines for health and safety and environmental offences, after a leak at one of its petrol stations forced residents in Lancashire to flee after it polluted their sewerage system.
The £5m fine for the health and safety breach is the highest imposed ever under the sentencing guidelines, along with Merlin entertainment, fined £5m for the rollercoaster crash that maimed teenagers.
Around 23,500 litres of petrol escaped from a filling tank at a Tesco petrol station in Haslingden, Lancashire over the days, 2 and 3 July in 2014.
Petrol entered the sewerage system with the odours affecting residents up to 1km away. People affected had to seek medical assistance for headaches and sickness, Preston Crown Court heard on 16 June.
The odours remained in their homes for a number of days, forcing residents to leave.
The petrol leak also entered Langwood Brook and the River Irwell causing a significant environmental impact, killing fish and other aquatic life.
In the joint prosecution conducted by Environment Agency and Lancashire County Council, it was found that Tesco had failed to address a known issue with part of the fuel delivery system. The alarm system had also been inadequate and was compounded by poor emergency procedures.
County Councillor Albert Atkinson, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “This was a major leak of fuel in a relatively built-up area and close to a busy superstore. The potential consequences are only too obvious.
“The fact that the leak was allowed to continue for more than 24 hours undoubtedly contributed to a risk of harm to people living and working nearby, as well as emergency services and other professionals attending the incident."
Mark Easedale, environment manager at the Environment Agency, said: “This pollution incident had a dramatically negative impact on the local community and the environment with Langwood Brook and the River Irwell severely affected.
A week after the pollution incident an investigation by Environment Agency officers found fish populations in the River Irwell immediately downstream of Langwood Brook were around 90% lower than those found upstream.”
Tesco Stores Ltd were fined a total of £8 million - £5 million for the health and safety charge and £3 million for the environmental offence, plus costs.
Tesco pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6(8) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 contrary to section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It also pleaded guilty to the environmental charges brought.
The fine in total is also the largest for a single pollution incident apart from Thames Water, fined £20m for pumping 1.9 billion litres of untreated sewage into the River Thames.
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