AN ABATTOIR has been fined £20,000 for polluting the River Ribble.

Dunbia (England) Limited, of Gisburn Road, Sawley, was hit with the penalty after bosses pleaded guilty to the offence at Hyndburn Magistrates' Court.

Abattoir waste from the company, formerly known as Rose County Foods Limited, discoloured a 300-metre stretch of the river in March 2005, the court was told.

The pollution was tracked back to a ditch where effluent could be seen running off a field which led to the tributary of the River Ribble.

Dunbia, which runs an abattoir and beef de-boning plant, had been spreading the effluent, including abattoir washing waters containing blood, on farm fields in the area.

But the company was prosecuted because there is a code for farmers which prevents spreading taking place within 10 metres of a watercourse.

As well as the £20,000 fine, the company was also ordered to pay £1,277.72 costs to the Environment Agency, which brought the prosecution.

However, a Dunbia spokesman said the company was considering an appeal against the fines.

The spokesman added: "The offence of which the company was accused was of a technical nature and the magistrates remarked on the extent to which the company had sought to operate within the Environment Agency guidelines.

"The company has been advised that the sentence imposed by the magistrates may have been incompatible with the sentencing guidelines.

"The company is therefore considering an appeal and it would be inappropriate to make any further comment until this process is complete."

An Environment Agency spokesman said Dunbia was responsible for making sure the spreading was only done under the supervision of qualified staff, following proper consideration of the ground conditions.

The guidelines also state that blood should not be spread on land where there is a high risk of run off, including frozen or waterlogged soil.

"This is to stop the effluent running off the fields and entering the watercourse.

Speaking after the hearing, environment officer, Jackie Monk, said: "We're delighted they were given the maximum fine possible for a magistrates' court.

"The pollution incident had the potential to do a lot of harm to the river.

"We take environmental crime very seriously and it's good that this has been acknowledged."