Those behind a pollution incident which killed 30,000 fish will not be prosecuted because of a DoE blunder, environmental campaigners claimed today.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) accused officials of allowing those responsible to escape justice after the contamination of the Sixmilewater River in Co Antrim, last June was allegedly not properly tested.
Coarse, game, eel and trout were among fish affected after poison killed everything in its path.
Lisa Fagan from the FoE said: “The fish kill which occurred on the Ballymartin and Sixmilewater in June remains unpunished because of a DoE blunder in which not one of the 30,000 dead fish was analysed to determine which pollutant had killed them.”
Onlookers said the fish kill was like a carpet of poison unrolling along the river.
Eels died before they were able to wriggle out of the water.
The only organisms to survive the pollution were those which live in the sediment, such as slugs and snails.
Ms Fagan added: “The pollutant is believed to have been a powerful insecticide but its chemical identity was never established. The minister (Sammy Wilson) claimed at the time that he did not have enough evidence to take a prosecution but the truth is that 30,000 pieces of evidence were squandered.”
The Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) said about 2,300 game fish and thousands of coarse fish died in the Sixmilewater near Dunadry.
Many more trout and eel died in the Ballymartin, a tributary of the Sixmilewater. At the time a water quality inspector was immediately tasked to the area to investigate and assess the environmental impact.
Officers were investigating the possibility that the incident was linked to another reported earlier that day on the Ballymartin River.
Investigations were ongoing to determine the source of the pollution, believed to be chemical in nature, and investigative samples were taken at a number of points on the river.
Ms Fagan said: “This is not a one-off: pollution incidents occur regularly on this river.
“Indeed, the Environment Agency admit that there has been a significant fish kill in each of the last 15 or 20 years.
“So we will judge the regulator on its outcomes: will polluters be allowed to use the river as a free waste disposal route; and will one of our best angling rivers be wiped out in the process?”
A Northern Ireland Environment Agency spokeswoman defended the body saying staff had “dedicated considerable time and resources to addressing the problem of pollution incidents on the river”.
She also hit out at any suggestion the NIEA lagged behind other countries in relation to pollution prosecutions, saying a prosecution was around “16 times more likely” in Northern Ireland “than in Scotland and it was four times more likely than England and Wales”.
However the spokeswoman did not address the Friends of the Earth claim that those who caused the fish kill will not be prosecuted because of an alleged DoE blunder.