By Daniel Hunter

Royal Dutch Shell was warned that a pipeline in Nigeria could leak before it spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil in 2008, according to court documents.

Up to 500,000 barrels were spilled, affecting a 35sq mile area in the south of Nigeria.

But Shell is denying it was ever told the pipeline could leak. It said that it "dismisses the suggestion that it has knowingly continued to use a pipeline that is not safe to operate".

Emails, letters and internal reports suggest that senior Shell employees were worried that the pipeline was nearing the end of its life and needed to be replaced.

According to an internal Shell email sent in December 2009, the oil giant was "corporately exposed as the pipelines in Ogoniland have not been maintained properly or integrity assessed for over 15 years".

Martyn Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, the lawyers representing the community filing the claim, said: "The decision by Shell to continue pumping oil through pipelines which they knew were not fit for purpose is quite shocking.

"The result was an environmental catastrophe for the Bodo Community and the biggest loss of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills. The 40,000 residents of the Bodo Community primarily relied on fishing and their way of life and source of livelihoods has been destroyed for years to come."

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