Residents lives were 'blighted' by foul odours and thousands of fish had been killed in local rivers over the period, Truro Crown Court heard.
Dairy Crest Limited, which was acquired by Canadian dairy processor Saputo in 2019 had previously pleaded guilty to 21 of 27 charges brought by the Environment Agency (EA). For committing these offences, the firm was fined £1.52m at Truro Crown Court on 23 June 2022. It had already agreed to pay costs of £272,747.
Delivering the sentence, his honour judge Simon Carr said he had not seen consistent performance evidenced by the company over a five-year period. The judge referred to a poor, middle management culture as a contributing factor to the environmental harm caused that should have been dealt with by senior management much sooner.
He said it felt like there was never a time without a problem and some of those responsible for the wastewater treatment plant felt bullied and unable to come forward.
The EA said the environmental performance of Dairy Crest Limited, which now trades as Saputo Dairy UK had been unacceptable for too long and needed to significantly improve.
Since the site had changed production to focus on whey processing, particularly to produce powder used in baby milk and other products, the effluent discharged into the River Inny had been more challenging to treat, the EA observed. This had resulted in unacceptable pollution of the local river, causing significant harm to fish and other aquatic wildlife.
In a statement issued on 23 June, Dairy Crest Limited said: "Following the Court hearing in September 2021 when Dairy Crest Limited pleaded guilty to offences for breaches to its environmental permit at the Davidstow Creamery dating back to 2016, the company was today ordered by the court to pay a fine of £1.52m.
"Once again, the company would like to express its sincere apologies to those who have been affected. Considerable work has been undertaken to rectify the historic issues to which the prosecution related. The company continues to invest significant resources in the best technology, processes and people to further improve its environmental performance and minimise 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 neighbour."
Largest dairy processing facility
Davidstow Creamery, which is situated near Camelford, north Cornwall, is the UK's largest dairy processing facility, producing 57,000 tonnes of dairy products, including Cathedral City and Davidstow Cheddar.
Saputo Dairy UK announced in April it had completed the installation of a 5MW solar energy project at the site. In December, the company also launched a partnership to reduce virgin plastic in cheese packaging.
Helen Dobby, area director of the Environment Agency, said: "As a large and well-established operator, Dairy Crest Limited should be up to the job of maintaining the required environmental standards. Instead, it has over a period of many years failed to comply with its environmental permit and not been able to protect local people and the environment.
"We acknowledge that Dairy Crest Limited has been taking steps to remedy the various problems, but unfortunately, these actions were not swift enough on many occasions and proved to be ineffective in stopping pollution.
"The Environment Agency remains deeply concerned about the environmental performance of this site and its impact on the environment. It will continue to monitor the situation and regulate this site closely and urges the operator to make the right decisions and level of investment on site to better protect the wildlife and people of Cornwall."
The offences included:
- Releasing a harmful biocide, used to clean the wastewater tanks and pipework, into the river and killing thousands of fish over a two-kilometre stretch on 16 August 2016.
- Coating the River Inny with a noxious, black sludge for 5 kilometres in 2018, through a release of a mass of suspended solids in July and August 2018.
- Consistently exceeding limits on substances like phosphorous and suspended solids entering the River Inny, from 2016 up to 2021.
- Numerous leaks of part-treated effluent into nearby watercourses and onto the land.
- Foul odours repeatedly affecting residents over many years.
- Failing to tell the Environment Agency within 24 hours of when things had gone significantly wrong on site on seven separate occasions.