Prosecutors get more time in Mildenhall oil spill trial
Stars and Stripes May 15, 2008
BURY ST. EDMUNDS, England — Prosecutors have been granted additional time to dig up documents proving that two British contractors took part in a massive jet fuel spill on RAF Mildenhall last year, the magistrates’ court here heard Tuesday afternoon.
Subcontractor Roy Clarke, of Underground Solutions, already admitted his guilt for puncturing an underground jet fuel line as he drilled a nearly 200-foot hole next to a taxiway. The subcontractor was drilling on behalf of T. Clarke (Midlands) Ltd., no relation to Roy Clarke.
The British Environment Agency filed charges against both contractors for polluting controlled water after roughly 44,000 gallons of jet fuel soaked into the ground in the April 20, 2007, incident.
T. Clarke pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum fine of 20,000 pounds (about $40,000).
District Judge David Cooper delayed the trial until July 1 to give prosecutors a chance to prepare reports that they say confirm T. Clarke had directed Roy Clarke to drill in the area.
"In order to drill safely underground, one needs to know what’s under there," prosecutor Mark Watson told the court. "There was shared responsibility."
Roy Clarke’s defense counsel also agreed the company should take some of the blame.
"He’s already admitted his part on it," solicitor Neil Saunders said after Tuesday’s trial. "The company won’t admit their part."
T. Clarke officials declined to comment Wednesday on the case.
In a previous trial, Nicola Greaney, defense counsel for T. Clarke, argued that the environment agency has taken an "unfair stance" against her client. She also told the court that independent contractors fall under a different legal status than employees of a company.
Spilled fuel contaminated the water table of a chalk aquifer found beneath Mildenhall. The aquifer holds much of the local area’s drinking water.
Anglian Water, one of the biggest water service providers in the United Kingdom, set up measures following the spill to ensure tainted water didn’t reach anyone’s taps, according to EA spokeswoman Catherine Burbage.
Cleanup efforts have been ongoing since the spill but EA officials would not say Wednesday how many gallons of fuel had been recovered.