Govt watchdog accused of 'persecuting' client

A Birmingham lawyer has accused the Government's environment watchdog of persecuting UK businesses following the collapse of a criminal prosecution against an oil company.

The actions of the Government's Environment Agency were branded “oppressive and manifestly unfair” and “an abuse of process” by a Crown Court judge.

Judge Tonking called the decision to prosecute oil-recycling company Petrus Oils an “affront to public conscience”. He ordered the quango to pay the firm's #114,000 costs.

Petrus Oil's solicitor, Michael Orlik, a partner at Dibb Lupton Alsop, says: “Despite my client's victory, its fight with the Environment Agency has so far cost it more than £500,000 and its future may be in jeopardy because the agency is now seeking to revoke its authorisation.

“This has been appealed and therefore the company is still operating pending an inquiry by the Secretary of State.

“It has had proceedings hanging over its head for two years and still the agency refuses to make peace.

“My client's desire for retribution, in addition to stopping production, has led to expensive and fruitless legal action.”

Petrus, which is based on a reclaimed former colliery site in Stoke, Staffordshire, recycles oils. In 1997, the Environment Agency decided to prosecute the company on 11 charges.

Orlik says the Environment Agency is motivated by a desire to chalk up prosecutions and convictions which look good in government league tables, rather than wanting to work alongside businesses.

An Environment Agency spokesman says: “We were very disappointed to have lost. There were more than 600 complaints against the firm in a two-year period.

“We plainly don't agree with the judge's conclusion. The Environment Agency is definitely not persecuting this company.”

The spokesman says that five charges against Petrus are still outstanding and concern the emission of noxious gases.