An environmental organisation has been granted the right to proceed with a private prosecution against Southern Water.

The prosecution from Fish Legal was against Southern Water for allegedly allowing pollution into the River Test at a hearing, which took place at West Hampshire Magistrates Court on Thursday, September 28.

The charges being brought against the water company relate to pollution reportedly entering the Test from an outfall operated by Southern Water at Nursling Industrial Estate near Southampton. The next hearing in the prosecution case is listed for Tuesday, February 27 2024.

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The legal action follows diesel pollution over the last two years which Southern Water claims its teams "quickly" dealt with, working with other organisations to protect the river. The company says there has never been any suggestion that it was the source of the pollution. 

The section between Romsey and the estuary, the focus of the criminal case, is currently classed as “unfavourable” due to polluting discharges. 

The hearing took place on the same day that the 2023 State of Nature report was published, showing that wildlife across the UK is declining, with at least 7 freshwater fish species now at risk of extinction.

Andover Advertiser: A hearing took place at Southampton Magistrates Court on Tuesday, September 28A hearing took place at Southampton Magistrates Court on Tuesday, September 28 (Image: Fish Legal)

Head of Practice at Fish Legal, Penelope Gane, said: “We’re delighted that the judge has given our private prosecution against Southern Water for polluting an iconic chalk stream the green light. 

"Despite protests from both the Environment Agency and Southern Water – who had King's Counsel in court on the day – the judge could see no reason why Fish Legal should not go ahead with bringing its own criminal case against the water company.”

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She added: “With the release of the State of Nature report showing that freshwater species are becoming rarer, we are determined to inject some urgency into stopping pollution on the River Test and, in this case, protecting wild salmon.

"The Environment Agency told the court that it had started looking into Southern Water’s role in the pollution but it’s too little, too late as far as we’re concerned.”

Chair of Fish Legal, George Graham, said: “We’re taking this case on behalf of our angler members, but we’re doing it for everyone who loves the River Test and the species it supports.  It is a precious chalkstream that needs protecting from persistent pollution. 

"We will be ably prepared for the next hearing in February when we hope matters can finally progress. We can’t wait.” 

A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “At an administrative hearing in West Hampshire Magistrates Court, Fish Legal was granted permission to issue a summons against us. For legal reasons we can make no further comment.”