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Record £20 million water pollution fine for Thames Water

Staff Writer |
Water company Thames Water has been fined more than £20 million in the largest freshwater pollution cause ever overseen by the UK’s Environment Agency.

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On Wednesday, the company, which controls water supply and treatment in London and much of the South East, received an unprecedented fine of £20,361,140.06 for a series of significant pollution incidents along the River Thames and its tributaries.

Six separate cases - which caused widespread, repeated, sustained and avoidable pollution between 2012 and 2014 - were brought together in one hearing at Aylesbury Crown Court.

The Court heard how repeated, illegal discharges of sewage into the River Thames and its tributaries resulted in major environmental damage including visible sewage along 14 kilometres of the Thames and the death of birds, fish and invertebrates.

Wastewater sites in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire all discharged sewage into rivers, affecting local people living near rivers, farmers, and anglers.

Investigations by the Environment Agency revealed that the discharges of untreated or partially-treated sewage were the result of avoidable negligence on the part of the company, which the Agency said disregarded risks that were flagged up by its own staff.

The pollution forced Environment Agency staff to mount to round-the-clock clean up efforts, senior officials said.

The Court heard how for weeks, untreated sewage, amounting to millions of litres per day, was diverted to the rivers and away from the treatment process, although the incoming sewage flow was well within the designed capacity of the treatment works.

In many instances less than half of the sewage coming into the plants was sent for treatment. People affected by the pollution were paying Thames Water customers.

Before Wednesday’s hearing, Thames Water had already been convicted, in individual prosecutions, of pollution offences at six other sites dating back to the same period (2012-2014); the company was fined £1 million and £380,000 in 2016 for similar problems dating back to 2013 at two of its other sewage treatment works at Tring, Hertfordshire and Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire.

The company tried to claim that the pollution offences were the result of unprecedented wet weather and blamed its customers for putting products such as wipes and condoms down their toilets.

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