Cambridge Water v Eastern Counties Leather – Case Summary

Cambridge Water Co Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather Plc

House of Lords

Citations: [1994] 2 AC 264; [1994] 2 WLR 53; [1994] 1 All ER 53; [1994] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 261; [1994] Env LR 105; [1993] EG 211 (CS).


The dendant stored chemicals on its land for use in tanning. Due to unforeseen seepage, the defendant’s chemicals contaminated the claimant’s borehole (which was over a mile away). This made the water unsafe to drink.

The claimant sued the defendant in nuisance, negligence and under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The trial judge dismissed the nuisance and negligence actions on the basis that the harm was not foreseeable and so the loss was too remote. The trial judge held that the remoteness requirement did not apply to Rylands v Fletcher liability, but the defendant was still not liable because their use of the land was natural. Both parties appealed.

  1. Must the harm be foreseeable to be recoverable in nuisance?
  2. Must the harm be foreseeable to be recoverable under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher?
  3. Was the storage of chemicals a natural use?

The House of Lords held in favour of the defendant. They agreed that the defendant’s use of the land was non-natural, but the actions failed because the claimant could not establish that their losses were sufficiently non-remote.

This Case is Authority For…

The remoteness of damage requirement applied to both nuisance and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. The rule in Rylands v Fletcher is best characterised as a sub-species of nuisance.


Lord Goff declined to fully define the concept of ‘naturalness’ under the rule in Rylands v Fletcher. However, he noted that:

  • The fact that there is a foreseeable and significant danger in the event of an escape is a strong indicator that it is non-natural;
  • The fact that the activity is common in a particular locality or industry is not enough to make it natural.