Residents say law stinks as Seafield sewage case fails

LAWYERS fighting for £20 million compensation for residents who claim they suffer the pong from a sewage works have had to shelve the case due to laws in Scotland that made it impossible to access information.

A legal team had been hopeful of getting payouts of several thousand pounds for about 10,000 people in Leith Links from the firm that runs Seafield sewage works in Edinburgh.

However, they hit a stumbling block as disclosure laws in Scotland mean the company, Stirling Water, does not have to release the information needed to mount the legal challenge. In England and Wales, the civil procedure rules require private companies to provide information needed for a court case.

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After spending thousands of pounds trying to build a case, the firm Hugh James & Lawford Kidd admitted defeat. No legal action has been taken, although there is no suggestion that Stirling Water has done anything wrong.

In a letter to the Leith Link Residents' Association, lawyer Neil Stockdale said: "The central difficulty that we face is that, under Scottish law, we are extremely unlikely to secure the documents required."

He said the firm had taken the "difficult decision that we are not in a position to act for you or any other residents in connection with this claim".

Mr Stockdale added the "difficulties we face are too significant to enable us to take matters further notwithstanding that fact that we have already invested a significant amount of time and money in getting to this point".

A similar case in Liverpool against United Utilities led to an out-of-court settlement of millions of pounds for residents who had complained about the stink from the Sandon Dock sewage works.

Professor Rob Jackson acted as expert witness in that case, and was also due to represent the Leith Links residents in the Seafield challenge.

"The difficulty has been that in England and Wales you can get disclosure from public and private bodies, but in Scotland the disclosure rules only extend to public bodies," he said.

Rob Kirkwood, the spokesman for the residents' association, said it was now launching a campaign to change the law in Scotland. The group has been in touch with justice secretary Kenny MacAskill over the issue.

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The association is planning to lodge a petition at the Scottish Parliament in an attempt to gain support from MSPs for a change to the law.

Mr Kirkwood said: "Once again ordinary people have been stitched up by Scottish law. Whereas in England ordinary people can be represented on a no win, no fee basis and get documents from private companies, in Scotland this isn't the case.

"People here are still treated as if they live in the third world. The laws in Scotland are simply medieval."

A request for information to allow the group to mount a case that the plant had been mismanaged was first made in September last year.

However, it proved impossible to get information detailed enough to take forward any legal challenge.

The residents' association had hoped that mounting the legal challenge would have led to action to improve the smell which locals claim continues to emanate from the sewage works.

A number of short-term measures have been put into place as Scottish Water, which owns the plant, and the City of Edinburgh Council spent 20 million putting an "odour abatement plan" at the plant into action.

However, Mr Kirkwood said local people were still forced to live with the stench because the measures are not effective enough. There have been claims from residents for about five decades that the plant unleashes unpleasant odours.

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During the recent general election, the residents' association even sent around a leaflet campaigning against the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates on the grounds that not enough had been done to tackle the problem.x