Mussel catcher shows his strength in court

A fisherman who claims his business was ruined by pollution is suing South West Water for damages, reports Roger Pearson

Mr justice Carnwath has given permission for a High Court test case against South West Water over alleged sewage pollution of the seas off north Devon.

But in doing so, Judge Carnwath has blocked moves by a mussel fisherman to sue, in addition, the Environment Agency, the Environment Minister, John Prescott, and the Director General of Water Services, Ian Byatt.

Richard Bowden claims his business was ruined by the pollution. Striking out his claims, the judge said, that although Bowden's claim was 'genuine and serious', there was no arguable basis for a civil claim for breach of statutory duty against the Environment Agency, Prescott and Byatt, and that they should never have been made parties to the action.

Judge Carnwath said he was anxious that Bowden, who is legally aided, 'should not be prejudiced by the over-enthusiasm of his advisers'. He pointed out that there was 'a heavy responsibility on those who conduct publicly-funded litigation to plead their case with economy and to limit themselves to claims which have some serious prospect of success'.

Judge Carnwath's decision to let the Environment Agency, Prescott and Byatt off the hook is not likely to rest here. Bowden's solicitor, Peter Scott of Toller Beattie, said they would take the matter to the Court of Appeal.

Bowden claims that, in 1992, pursuant to a directive of the European Union, the area in which he fished was classified by the Ministry of Agriculture, fisheries and Food in a way which made his activity impossible. He argues that the reason for the classification was the polluted state of the water.

Bowden blames South West Water for failing to treat its effluent adequately, and has targeted the other defendants on the basis of their responsibilities in relation to the aquatic environment in general.

Pending hearing of any appeal moves, Bowden will be continuing with his action against the water company. He will be seeking both exemplary and aggravated damages on the basis of nuisance and an injunction ordering South West Water to clean up the water.