River polluters escape punishment in Magherafelt

Pollution on the Moyola River. Picture Michael McGlade
Pollution on the Moyola River. Picture Michael McGlade

Water polluters have escaped punishment in spite of guilty verdicts in all the cases to come before Magherafelt court since 2010, it has been revealed.

In the past four years, there have been seven major water pollution convictions brought to the local court. However, in all cases the defendants were granted an absolute discharge by the judge.

This means that although a finding of guilt was made no conviction was registered, and the perpetrator was not given any conditions to follow.

The legal decisions contrast strongly with those made in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Dungannon, where there have been 25 convictions for pollution offences in the last five years, including one custodial sentence, the highest number for any district in Northern Ireland.

A total of £25,425 in financial penalties has been imposed by Dungannon court on local farmers, business and land owners, rising from £1,850 in 2009 to a high of £13,250 in 2012.

The jurisdiction with the next highest number of absolute discharges was Ballymena, where six perpetrators escaped punishment out of a total of 12 convictions. The Ballymena court also imposed fines of £6,950 for the offences.

In response to the high number of absolute discharges in Magherafelt, a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said that it was a court matter and consequently the department was unable to comment.

The latest absolute discharge at Magherafelt court came in April when a Maghera farmer pleaded guilty to polluting 1km of an unnamed tributary of the Black Burn at Five Mile Straight.

A sample taken at the time of the incident confirmed that the discharge contained poisonous, noxious or polluting matter which was potentially harmful to fish life in the receiving waterway, according to the Department of the Environment.

Two further absolute discharges were given to a Bellaghy farmer for allowing slurry effluent to flow into a tributary of the Lower Bann River at an approximate rate of three litres per minute, and to a Toomebridge business for polluting 3kms of a tributary of Coppies Burn at Killynease Road, Magherafelt with fuel.

Recently, the Moyola Local Management Area specified that 78% of the water bodies in the Moyola have been classified as less than good status.

The Sperrins Gateway Landscape Partnership has been working to improve conservation and reduce the number of pollution incidents on local rivers such as the Moyola.

Manager Fiona Bryant said: “Rivers have great importance for providing drinking water, flood alleviation, sustainable tourism, recreational and leisure activities and for a diverse range of local wildlife.

“Delivering restoration measures will improve the conditions for invertebrates, a source of food, for birds, wildlife and fish.

“Working to increase public participation within the local community, issues such as fly-tipping and dumping which lead to pollution can also be addressed”.