A COMPANY has been ordered to pay £26,475 after admitting it caused oil to leak into a Suffolk river.

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Pauls Malt Ltd, of Eastern Way, Bury St Edmunds, pleaded guilty to contravening an environmental permit that resulted in the pollution of a 3.7km stretch of the River Lark.

West Suffolk Magistrates’ Court was told that dozens of fish died in the incident on November 22 2011, which also left the malting firm with a clean-up bill of £106,304.

Claire Corfield, prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, said fuel had got into the water system through a drain after an automated float valve went wrong - causing a fuel tank to overflow. She said that a brick bund, a device meant to prevent overflow matter from getting out, had been defective.

Mrs Corfield, who said the breach had caused an “extreme environmental impact”, told the court that the company did not have risk reduction measures in place to check and maintain the affected tank and were aware that the float valve - installed six months previously - was not “a fail safe system.”

The court was told that at least 47 fish were killed and more than 100 others were observed to be “struggling” while air-breathing and surface-dwelling invertebrates were also affected.

Mrs Corfield said 346 gallons of oil, which was used for heating, fuelling fork lift trucks and emergency power, had been recovered while a further 564 gallons was unaccounted for.

Kate Kelleher, barrister, mitigating, said that the incident had happened when engineers were on site testing boilers in preparation for winter and the possible disruption to the gas supply. She added that the event had been “unforeseeable” and that the company had worked with the Environment Agency to clean the site.

Ms Kelleher added: “The company has not sought to blame anyone. What it did in the minutes, hours and days afterwards is to get the river clean by December 9.”

Chair of the Magistrates Hugh Newman ordered the company to pay a fine of £20,000 full costs of £6,475.

After the hearing, Environment Agency officer Ross McIntyre said: “This pollution and these fish deaths could have been avoided if adequate preventative measures had been in place for the oil tank.”

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