Thames Water has been ordered to pay a record fine of £20.3m for repeatedly allowing untreated sewage to flow into the Thames.
It is the largest penalty handed to a water utility company for an environmental incident, after the Thames was polluted with 1.4 billion litres of raw sewage.
However, the fine amounts to just two weeks of the company’s profit.
The untreated effluent entered the waterway in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire over several months in 2013 and 2014.
The discharge left people and livestock ill, killed fish and other animals living in the river, and put fishermen out of business.
Thames Water admitted 13 breaches of environmental laws at Aylesbury Crown Court – over discharges from treatment works in Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow, and a pumping station at Littlemore.
It also pleaded guilty on 17 March over a smaller discharge from an unmanned sewage treatment plant at Arborfield in Berkshire in September 2013.
Handing down the fine, which is ten times higher than one paid by Southern Water in 2016, Judge Francis Sheridan said: “This is a shocking and disgraceful state of affairs. It should not be cheaper to offend than take appropriate action.”
The judge said at a hearing last week that he had to ensure the fine was “sufficiently large that they (Thames Water) get the message”.
He added: “What a dreadful state of affairs that is.
“Logbook entries reflected the pathetic state of affairs and the frustration of employees.
“Thames Water utilities continually failed to report to the Environment Agency despite (managers) being fully aware of the issues and reporting governance.”
He later said of the firm: “There is a history of non-compliance.”
The judge said that, on several occasions, Thames Water managers had ignored warnings and “risks identified by employees and others”.
Anne Brosnan, the Environment Agency’s chief prosecutor, said: “Thames Water was completely negligent to the environmental dangers created by the parlous state of its works.
“Our investigation revealed that we were dealing with a pattern of unprecedented pollution incidents which could have been avoided if Thames Water had been open and frank with the Environment Agency as required by water company industry protocol.”
Richard Aylard, External Affairs Director of Thames Water, said: “We have failed in our responsibility to the environment and that hurts both personally and professionally because we do care.
“We’ve also failed in our responsibility to our customers, who pay us to provide an essential public service all the time, every day and not just some of the time, and we apologise for all of those failings.
“But in the three years since the last of those incidents we have learnt our lesson – there have been sweeping, far-reaching changes across the waste water business.
“That has included more people, more and better systems and more investments, and that is beginning to pay off.
“Our performance has improved considerably and we’re also doing a lot of work which we’re proud of in partnership with environmental groups across our area, working to improve rivers and not just get them back to where they should be.”
He insisted customers would not face an increase in prices.
The fine is the biggest since Southern Water was ordered to pay £2m in December 2016 for polluting the beach at Margate in 2012.
Written by the staff at Sky News