Class action campaign to sue over Seafield stench

Rob Kirkwood has petitioned Holyrood on behalf of other local residents
Rob Kirkwood has petitioned Holyrood on behalf of other local residents
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RESIDENTS who have been plagued for years by the notorious Seafield Stench are calling for a change in the law so they can sue Scottish Water over the odour.

Rob Kirkwood, on behalf of Leith Links Residents Association, has submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament, arguing people in Scotland should be able to take collective “class actions” against companies, as is already the case south of the Border.

A similar case in Liverpool against United Utilities led to an out-of-court settlement of millions of pounds for residents.

Earlier this month, people living near the Seafield works complained the smell, which some have endured for decades, had returned to the area despite a £20 million odour improvement project. Scottish Water, which owns the plant, blamed weather patterns.

The Leith residents were forced to drop an earlier attempt to take legal action against Scottish Water after running into problems over Scotland’s disclosure laws, which do not require firms to provide information needed for a court case.

A previous petition to the parliament was also abandoned after a review of Scotland’s civil law system by Lord Gill recommended the present obstacles to multi-party or “class” actions should be removed. Mr Kirkwood said: “We were advised to drop the petition because something positive was possibly going to happen but nothing has, so we are back again.

“We hope that by tweaking existing rules, we can ensure people in Scotland can have the same access to justice as people in England and Wales.”

The Scottish Government said it planned to publish a consultation on proposed changes to the system, including class actions, towards the end of the year. But Mr Kirkwood said that was kicking the issue into the long grass.

He said: “The Gill report was a comprehensive review of what could and could not be done. What they are now proposing is yet another review. These are standard tactics for politicians who want to shelve proposals for as long as possible.”

Edinburgh Northern and Leith Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm backed the residents, saying: “Groups of people cannot take civil action in Scotland and that needs to be corrected.”

A Scottish Government spokesman confirmed the Scottish Civil Justice Council and the Legal Aid Amendment Scotland Bill 2012 would not address class actions. But he said: “The Scottish Government fully supports the Scottish Civil Courts Review recommendations in principle, including the creation of a new type of class action procedure in Scotland.”