Crafar dairying company pleads guilty over effluent

A dairying company owned by the Crafar family today pleaded guilty to four charges of unlawfully discharging effluent to land and breach of an abatement notice.

Crafar Farms, the nation's biggest family-owned group of dairy farms, was placed in receivership on October 5.

The pleas by Hillside Ltd were entered in Hamilton District Court by a lawyer acting for the receivers.

The charges arose from a series of incidents between November 2007 and February 2008 on the company's property at Kuratau, southwest of Lake Taupo.

Sentencing of the company is expected early in the New Year.

In a related move, the prosecutor for regional council Environment Waikato, withdrew charges relating to the same series of offences against Hillside's directors Allan and Frank Crafar, and Allan's wife Elizabeth Crafar.

Charges against Hillside's sharemilker at the property, Ronald Haket and his company Haket Farming Ltd, were also withdrawn.

Outside the court, council enforcement spokesman Patrick Lynch said the guilty pleas on behalf of the company showed Hillside was formally accepting responsibility for the offending.

But the Crafars - who had previously entered not guilty pleas along with Mr Haket - had said they would need legal aid to defend themselves, raising the prospect of a long and expensive defended hearing, Mr Lynch said.

"Given Hillside's guilty plea, plus the fact the Crafars have recently been convicted of similar charges and are in strained financial circumstances, EW has decided to spare the ratepayer the costs of an expensive court process that would provide little additional community benefit," Mr Lynch said.

"This in no way indicates that EW was not confident about securing convictions against the Crafars, Mr Haket and his company.

"But, in the circumstances, it was felt that gaining further convictions against individuals in this particular case would not provide any further deterrence."

Mr Lynch said the council was taking a pragmatic approach by withdrawing the charges.

"At the end of the day, we look to act in the best interests of the wider community," he said.

"We are satisfied that Hillside has been held accountable for the offending and that agreeing to withdraw the charges against the other defendants is the most reasonable course of action considering the overall circumstances."

The Crafar family, based in the Bay Of Plenty at Reporoa, built a dairying empire of 22 farms with 20,000 milking cows, 10,000 other stock, 200 staff and around $200 million of debt with Westpac, Rabobank and PGG Wrightson Finance.

Shortly before the company was placed in receivership government inspectors were ordered to make urgent checks on the welfare of livestock at its farms.

Allan Crafar has said that he, his wife Elizabeth, and his brother Frank were being unfairly targeted over issues such as dirty dairying and animal welfare.


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