Environment Agency letter in response to June 2007 Ecologist article
Barbara Young, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, responds to the Ecologist June 2007 article 'Silenced witness’ in the July/August 2007 letters page
I write in response to your article ‘Silenced witness’ (June 2007), which includes a number of unacceptable allegations against the Environment Agency and its staff.
Your suggestion that the Environment Agency is involved in illegally intercepting emails and telephone calls is both unfounded and offensive. We can categorically state that we have never taped conversations between Douglas Gowan and staff, although Mr Gowan has on a number of occasions left extended voice mail messages on staff mobile phones that have been copied down in order for staff to follow up. We have also received a considerable volume of email correspondence from Mr Gowan over the past few months, including much correspondence that Mr Gowan emailed to third parties and ‘cc’ to Environment Agency staff. Often this information was then forwarded to the appropriate person within the Environment Agency. This includes emails that you refer to as ‘intercepted’.
We deny emphatically that the Environment Agency has ever been involved in ‘covert’, ‘invasive’ or ‘illegal’ activities against Mr Gowan. Furthermore, your publication did not even take the obvious precaution of checking these serious allegations with the Environment Agency before publication. The police have not launched an ‘investigation’, they simply contacted the Environment Agency to establish the truth about these allegations – which we provided to them, as above.
Our priority since taking the lead on this site in 2005 has always been – and shall remain – to protect the environment for people and wildlife. A report assessing the current state of controlled water pollution on the Brofiscin site will be published in July. This will provide the technical data needed to establish the extent of pollution at the Brofiscin site and the best way of remediating the site. The report will provide vital information in order to determine what remediation costs needs to be recovered from liable polluters. Enquiries to determine these appropriate persons are continuing, independently of this report.
However, as we have responded to the Ecologist previously, the Environment Agency has had continuous US legal counsel acting on our behalf in the United States Bankruptcy Court. We anticipate filing an objection to Solutia Inc.’s disclosure statement and reorganisation plan in the USBC during June.
In distinct contrast to your claim that the Environment Agency has ‘never brought a prosecution against a major polluter’, we have an excellent record of bringing legal action against environmental polluters, with a 98 per cent success rate across all prosecutions. In 2005 alone, we brought 744 prosecutions, resulting in more than £2.7m in fines. A summary of 2006 prosecutions by the Environment Agency will be available in our annual Spotlight on business report, due out in July.
Environment Agency Wales and Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council organised information sessions during June to update local residents in the village of Groesfaen, near Llantrisant, on the investigations into the Brofiscin Quarry site. We are committed to determining the best way forward to protect the local environment and to recover costs from those liable.
Jon Hughes replies: In response to complaints from Douglas Gowan, Countess Mar, Paddy French and Ian Panton, Norfolk police are investigating the seeming illegal intercept of emails. This investigation, police confirmed to the complainants, was ongoing as of 20 June. The question remains, how did emails addressed to the above recipients and not CC-ed to the Agency end up in their files? Furthermore, documents released under Freedom of Information requests seemingly show the Agency had knowledge aforethought of Mr Gowan’s intended actions. Since 26 April, Mr Gowan has at Baroness Young’s request communicated only with Viscount Mills, barring a couple of exceptions. He has disclosed these communications to the Ecologist to corroborate the fact. In response to our Editorial, Baroness Young disputes our contention that the Agency has failed to pursue major polluters. The statistics quoted show a recovery of just £3,629 per incident. The meetings with local residents Baroness Young refers to had yet to take place at the time of receiving the letter (19 June) and astonishingly pre-empt the publication of the long-awaited Atkins report. We address this and its legal ramifications in the US bankruptcy courts on page 15.
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