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Intruder snuck into Scottish Water plant and released three million litres of sewage into North Sea

Andrew Shepherd.
Andrew Shepherd.

A thief snuck into a Scottish Water plant and managed to release three million litres of raw, untreated sewage into the North Sea.

Andrew Shepherd was discovered sleeping in a changing room at the plant on Coast Road, Aberdeen, after having clambered through an unlocked window.

The 41-year-old ransacked drawers but also tampered with a control panel, shutting off power and causing raw sewage to pour into the sea.

The Scottish Water Waste Plant
The Scottish Water Waste Plant on Coast Road, Aberdeen. Picture by Kenny Elrick

Fiscal depute Brian Young told Aberdeen Sheriff Court staff were working at the plant at around 6am on April 10 when instrumentation indicated something was wrong with water flow and communications.

Staff investigated the issue and in the main control centre room they found drawers “ransacked”, items on the floor and the control panel open.

‘No reports of dead animals’

CCTV checks later confirmed Shepherd had entered the premises at 4.45am.

Further checks found he managed to turn off the power to the plant.

Mr Young said: “This meant that raw sewage had been flowing into the North Sea.

“Scottish Water confirm the incident caused the plant to be shut down for a period of time and that untreated waste was flushed into the sea.

“As the plant is subject to a SEPA licence held by Scottish Water with attached conditions, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SPA), which regulates such premises investigated the illegal discharge of waste from the plant but did not charge the £30,000 per day rate for a failure to comply with the licence due to the circumstances involving a third party.

“However, £30,000 is the amount they would have been fined for the same actions had they been responsible.”

Scottish Water confirmed that the release was activated at 6am according to their computer system. The sewage then flowed into a buffer tank. The flow into the sea commenced at 8.13am and concluded at 10.16am.

The fiscal depute went on: “The tide was going out when the incident happened which meant the waste would be sent outwards rather than to shore.

“There were no reports of dead animals or excessive waste beyond the norm.

Struggled with officers

“The amount of waste which was released was 3,000 cubic meters of pure untreated raw sewage through two pipes, one 1.5km offshore and the other 2.5km offshore, both into the North Sea.”

Investigations discovered entry had been gained through an unlocked sliding window, and Shepherd was found sleeping on a bench in a changing room.

The employees left and called the police, but at 7.30am a fire alarm went off so they returned to the building and found Shepherd now wearing high-vis Scottish Water clothing.

Officers arrived at 7.40am and tried to handcuff Shepherd, who began to struggle and thrash his arms and legs.

Leg restraints and handcuffs were eventually applied.

A search found Shepherd to be in possession of a black headset, stapler and laptop power bank.

He was arrested at taken to Kittybrewster station where officers seized the jacket and trousers, as well as an orange personal alarm and a pair of pliers, all owned by Scottish Water.

Actions branded ‘stupidity’

Shepherd, of HMP Grampian, pled guilty to theft, malicious mischief, and resisting, obstructing or hindering police.

Defence agent Alex Burn said: “He tells me he had taken Xanax to a certain extent and has no recollection whatsoever.

“It would appear he’d snuck into this plant and has been messing about with the equipment.”

The solicitor added it was only through a “great deal of good fortune” that Shepherd’s actions had not had a more serious impact.

He went on: “He very much regrets this. He understands there could have been environmental damage as a consequence of his stupidity.”

Sheriff Graham Buchanan jailed Shepherd for 14 months.

Security improvements

A Scottish Water spokesperson told the Press and Journal that the firm takes security at its sites “very seriously”.

They said: “Following the incident at Nigg Waste Water Treatment Works on April 10, we liaised with Police Scotland and a number of their recommendations have been implemented on-site, including improvements to perimeter fencing and lighting.

“Other recommended improvements will be implemented.

The spokesperson also warned of the “many dangers” of Scottish Water’s facilities, including deep water and operating machinery.

They added: “Scottish Water also takes the health and safety of its employees, contractors and visitors to waste water sites very seriously and, particularly with the school summer holidays under way, would stress that members of the public should not enter these facilities unless approved.”

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