Legality of truck sting in question

Last updated 05:00 17/11/2012

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Environment Southland could be made to refund $3661 of fines levied during its Gypsy Day effluent crackdown after an Environment Court judge questioned the operation's legality.

The sting was a joint regional council and police operation. Stock trucks were pulled over by police and checked for effluent discharge before and on Gypsy Day.

Riverton trucking company Euan Shearing Ltd was prosecuted for spilling effluent after one of its trucks was stopped near Dipton on May 31 last year.

During the hearing Environment Southland employee Chris McMillan admitted altering a form filled in by police to say there had been discharge from the truck.

The council withdrew its prosecution.

Judge Jeff Smith's decision in the case, published on Thursday, casts doubt on the legality of the sting and suggests it was a deliberate attempt to get around restrictions in the Transport Act, which does not cover effluent discharge from trucks, by using the Resource Management Act.

Judge Smith said the prosecution of the trucking company was not undertaken in good faith, because it was clearly attempting to have a test prosecution based on the Resource Management Act.

Four other Southland companies were fined a total $3661.34 during the Gypsy Day operation.

Dunedin barrister Colin Withnall, QC, who represented Euan Shearing Ltd, said other people who had paid fines resulting from the operation could make a case for a rehearing.

"For those people who had paid up, the only remedy would be to go to court to have a rehearing . . . if they get a rehearing in the first place, the legality issue is very much up in the air. There has been no actual judicial finding on it."

A rehearing could settle the legality question, he said.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said there were no other cases before the court as a result of joint operations with the police and he was not aware of any approach from the other fined companies looking to recover costs.

The council would reconsider its approach to discharges from stock trucks in future in light of the judgement, he said.

Police spokesman Ross Henderson said it was not possible to know how many operations of the same kind had been run by other regional councils and police districts.

"What we can say is that police across the country regularly carry out joint operations with partner agencies in the interests of road safety. This will at times include a focus on heavy vehicle compliance, including stock trucks.

"Stock effluent on the road can pose a significant hazard."

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