THAMES Water Utilities Ltd (Thames Water) has been ordered to pay an unprecedented £20,361,140.06 in fines and costs for a series of significant pollution incidents on the River Thames.
These offences, between 2012 and 2014, led to the death of wildlife and distress to the public.
The prosecution saw six separate cases brought together in one hearing at Aylesbury Crown Court. It is the biggest freshwater pollution case in the Environment Agency’s 20-year history.
The court heard how TWUL’s repeated illegal discharges of sewage into the River Thames, and its tributaries, resulted in major environmental damage including visible sewage along 14km of the river, and the death of birds, fish and invertebrates.
The multiple incidents from the company’s wastewater sites in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire caused significant distress and disruption to the public. Riverside residents, farmers, local businesses, anglers, and recreational river users were all affected. Sailing regattas and other events on the River Thames were also disrupted.
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 incoming sewage was sent for treatment.
His Honour Judge Sheridan said it was “a very dark period in the history of Thames Water” who demonstrated “scant regard for the law, with dreadful results for people who live in the area.”
He congratulated the Environment Agency for their “painstaking and thorough investigation”, and added that he hopes the courts never see the like of such a case again.
When commenting on the level of the fines, His Honour Judge Sheridan, noted this was a record breaking fine for record breaking offending. He asks that the fines must be met by Thames Water, and not be passed onto customers; it was the company, not the customers, who broke the law.
Anne Brosnan, Chief Prosecutor for the Environment Agency said: “Members of the public are our eyes and ears so if you see any signs of pollution in a watercourse near you please report it to the Environment Agency Incident Hotline on 0800 80 70 60.”