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Company in court over Suffolk RAF base fuel leak

PUBLISHED: 11:18 13 May 2009 | UPDATED: 09:31 06 July 2010

A large scale clean-up operation was carried out at a Suffolk air base after a building sub-contractor punctured an underground aviation fuel pipeline, a court has heard.

A large scale clean-up operation was carried out at a Suffolk air base after a building sub-contractor punctured an underground aviation fuel pipeline, a court has heard.

Thirty-seven thousand gallons of jet fuel pumped out of the high-pressure pipeline at RAF Mildenhall over a period of several hours before the rupture was discovered, Ipswich Crown Court was told.

It was initially feared the spillage had contaminated a drinking water source owned and operated by Anglian Water but fortunately that wasn't the case, said Michael Harris, prosecuting.

Following the incident the Environment Agency set up a control room at the base and a number of wells were sunk in the ground to identify where the fuel was and where possible to extract it.

Before the court is T Clarke (Midlands) Ltd, of London, which has denied causing JP8 aviation fuel to enter groundwater at RAF Mildenhall in April 2007.

The court has heard that Roy Clarke, 59, of Flax Farm, Diss, who was sub-contracted by T Clarke (Midlands) Ltd to carry out drilling work at the base and had punctured the pipeline, had already appeared in court and admitted the charge.

Mr Harris told the court that T Clarke (Midlands) Ltd was an approved contractor for the Ministry of Defence and had an office at RAF Mildenhall. In 2007 the company had sub-contracted drilling work that was needed as part of a larger construction project to Roy Clarke, who traded as Underground Solutions, of Diss Road, Scole.

It was while Mr Clarke, who was not informed of the presence of the underground aviation fuel pipeline, was drilling a 60m long channel under part of the airfield on April 20 that his machinery became stuck.

As it was late in the afternoon it was decided to pack up for the day and to return the following morning to sort out the problem, said Mr Harris.

That evening it was noticed that the pressure in the fuel system had dropped and while a maintenance engineer was driving round the site trying to identify the cause of the problem he noticed the smell of fuel and discovered fuel on grass near a taxi-way on the airfield.

A technical officer was contacted shortly after midnight and he identified that there were underground fuel pipes in the area where drilling work had been carried out several hours earlier.

Mr Harris alleged that although Mr Clarke had punctured the pipeline T Clarke (Midlands) Ltd, as the main contractor, had specific responsibilities and should have been aware of the location of the underground pipelines before drilling work commenced.

He said that if the company had contacted the Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants department at the base it would have been told about the pipelines.

The trial continues.

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