Southern Water has pleaded not guilty to four charges of repeated pollution of the River Test.

The water company has been accused of failing to prevent pollution discharging into the river from one of its outfalls, which drains the surface water network from Nursling Industrial Estate.

Southern Water is being prosecuted by Fish Legal, an environmental group acting on behalf of local anglers.

At Southampton Magistrates Court on Tuesday, February 27 the utility company pleaded not guilty to all four charges and will therefore face trial later this year.

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George Graham, chair of Fish Legal, said: “Feelings are running extremely high with anglers on the River Test at the moment. 

"We are angry that Southern Water appears to be dragging its feet on stopping the pollution of this fragile river. The ‘cathedral of flyfishing’ is fighting for its health.

 “Private prosecutions are relatively rare and this is not an action that Fish Legal would normally take against polluters.

"But we’re prepared to go all the way with this case to protect an iconic chalk stream. If Southern Water thinks that we’re going to shy away from a fight in the criminal courts they have misjudged us and the anglers on whose collective behalf we are taking this action."

Daily Echo: Fish Legal anglers outside Southampton Magistrates CourtFish Legal anglers outside Southampton Magistrates Court (Image: Fish Legal)

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Penelope Gane, head of practice at Fish Legal, said: “We’re surprised that Southern Water has chosen to contest what are clearly obvious wrongdoings here. By denying these charges, the company appears to be much more concerned about protecting its reputation than protecting the River Test.

“We and the local angling groups just want the pollution to stop, it’s as simple as that.

"We didn’t take the decision to prosecute this water company lightly, but if our action forces Southern Water to upgrade and maintain one of its assets that is a known source of pollution for the River Test it will have been worth it.”

The River Test is a Site of Special Scientific Interest supporting Atlantic salmon, trout, otters, water voles, brook lamprey and bullhead.