Co. Down farmer fined £4,000 after polluting 2km of waterway

By Michael Kenwood

A Co. Down farmer has been fined £4,000 after polluting 2km of waterway with slurry at almost 500 times the acceptable limit.

At Ards Magistrate’s Court last Friday (October 19), Ian McFarlane of Ballygrainey Road, Holywood, pleaded guilty to ‘knowingly or otherwise’ discharging a polluting matter into a waterway on September 18 last year.

It was his second conviction for pollution.

The council prosecutor told the court the pollution travelled almost 2km of waterway from his Holywood farm, with sewage fungus from his slurry tank found as far as Belfast Lough.

The court heard in parts about how the waterway samples showed the water to be 488 times greater than poor-to-bad-quality status water.

The prosecutor said the farmer “should have been aware something was amiss with the five-year-old tank that leaked the slurry”.

The counsel for the defence said the contractor who installed the tank was relying on another employee to do fittings at the time. The contractor also said the accused would not have been aware of the one inch gap responsible for the leak, the lawyer explained.

“This was not a cavalier attitude; the tank was built by an expert and there was no fish kill,” the lawyer said, and asked for mitigation in sentencing.

The court heard the offence brings a maximum sentence in the Magistrates’ Court of three months imprisonment and £20,000 in fines, with a maximum of two years imprisonment.

After reading the probation reports, District Judge Mark Hamill said: “I see the contractor says the employee didn’t do his job correctly. It seems to be a case of passing the buck, and the list of figures in the civil case is getting longer and longer.”

He said McFarlane’s previous fine of £400 in 2016 for polluting a waterway was “an extraordinarily lenient sentence” and added that, if there was a third conviction, it would be in the Crown Court.

Judge Hamill told the court that “the days of low fines for pollution are over” and fined the farmer £4,000.