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Browne Jacobson secures record fine in environmental prosecution

23 February 2015

Browne Jacobsons criminal and regulatory team have concluded a significant environmental prosecution in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Natural England by securing the biggest ever fine for an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

When Gelt Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest in Cumbria was significantly damaged in 2010, it led to one of the longest and most complex prosecutions that Natural England has ever brought.

Gelt Woods is an important example of gorge woodland of a type local to northern Cumbria and parts of Scotland. The Romans had used stone from the gorge when building Hadrians Wall.

In November 2010 significant damage was caused through tree felling and track construction. The land had recently been bought by Mr Philip Day who was attempting to turn the woodland into a commercial pheasant shooting estate.

In May 2012 Natural England commenced criminal proceedings against Mr Day. He initially pleaded not guilty. Extensive legal argument followed on the topic of Natural Englands powers to inspect the land and the meaning of the word "cause" under the of 1981 Act. Ultimately Mr Day pleaded guilty to two counts of causing the felling of trees and construction of a track without consent.

On 31 July 2013 Mr Day was sentenced to a £450,000 fine and he was ordered to pay prosecution costs of in full. The judge observed that public concern for the preservation of the countryside has grown over recent years and that the level of financial penalties have gone up and must reflect legitimate concern, set at a level whereby it can act as a clear reminder of the importance attached to areas of special importance.

Shortly after the sentencing hearing Mr Day appealed against his conviction and fine. The appeal was heard in December 2014 in front of the Lord Chief Justice. The appeal was dismissed and the court upheld the fine with the Lord Chief Justice observing that the protection of the environment, and particularly SSSIs which represent the common heritage of mankind, are of great importance.

Andrew Hopkin, Head of Browne Jacobsons Criminal and Regulatory Team, said:

"This has been a landmark case. It sends a powerful message about the importance of areas of special importance and we hope acts as a deterrent to anyone intending to break the law."

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