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United Utilities try to shut down critics with empty legal threats

It has been a bad few weeks for United Utilities, the country's top polluter.


Every Monday protests against the company have been taking place outside their offices in Windermere, Cumbria, by the campaign group Save Windermere.

The protests have attracted a host of celebrities, including Steve Coogan, Lee Mack and Paul Whitehouse,  fed-up with the pollution pouring into Lake Windermere.


In a subsequent interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Steve Coogan accused United Utilities of 'greenwashing' and 'PR Spin'. He added "It’s to such an extent that there are toxic levels of algae, there are algae blooms that show the nitrate levels are like through the roof. And they’ve been doing this year on year.”


Coogan also pointed out that “the lakes are there for everyone, people who can’t afford holidays abroad to be able to use the lake for recreation, and it’s threatening that.”


Just up the road from Windermere, at Haweswater Reserve, run by the RSPB, a recent report has found ‘significant environmental damage’ had taken place as a consequence of micro-plastics from tree guards entering the water ways.

Furthermore, over £3 million pounds of taxpayer’s money seems to have been spent on tree planting, many of which failed due to being planted incorrectly.  


Rather than accept their failings identified in the report, United Utilities instead, we hear, chose to threaten legal action against the commissioning organisation – United Utilities Consultative Panel.


Their legal arguments against the publication of the report amounted to ‘imputation of incompetence’, after the land agent responsible for the scheme was accused of failing to come up with “any solutions or any answers” in a three-year period that the problems were being reported.


A second criticism of the report was the revelation that tenant farmers had been pressured into “handing over their farm’s single business identifier number. This was despite the tenant farmer interviewed in the report telling United Utilities that he wasn’t interested. If these numbers are passed on to Defra or Natural England, they could be taken as proof a party is interested. If enough are presented to Defra in this way, it might be enough to secure millions of pounds in funding, whether anyone was interested or not. "There’s been a lot of pressure put on for people to join up", the farmer said.


A threat to remove the report ‘within 48 hours’ was sent to the publishers of the report by United Utilities, contrary to recent guidance by the Solicitors Regulation Authority [SRA] regarding the heavily criticised use of SLAPPs by big corporations in an attempt to silence smaller parties.


Both criticisms were dismissed by lawyers as being without merit.


What seems clear by the actions of United Utilities and their public comments is they are trying to close down opposition and are seemingly focused only on maximum profit, regardless of their impact on local communities.

In the case of Haweswater, the RSPB seem to be doing their best to ignore the environmental damage caused to the local environment, which has evidently prevented more negative headlines.


As we are now seeing though with the Post Office scandal, big corporations can only bully their way through for so long before they are held accountable for their decisions and the impact they have on local communities.


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