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'Unprecedented' £20m fine for Thames Water over sewage spills

James Harrison

‘Safeguarding the environment is not an optional extra’, the Environment Agency has said after Thames Water was handed a record fine of close to £20m for a series of waste spills.

More than a billion litres of sewage were unleashed by the utilities company in an ‘unprecedented’ act of pollution across the Thames Valley between 2012-14.

The firm will pay a £19.75m fine plus costs which will bring the total to more than £20.3m.

Addressing Aylesbury Crown Court, where the punishment was handed down today, his honour Judge Francis Sheridan condemned the firm’s ‘disgraceful conduct’, which he added was ‘entirely foreseeable and preventable’ and showed scant regard for the law’.

Offences included failures at Little Marlow Sewage Treatment works, which polluted the River Thames for more than 1km.

This alone resulted in an £8m fine after it was found to have been caused by ‘inadequate investment, maintenance and poor management’.

The other offences took place at treatment works in Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Arborfield and Littlemore sewage pumping station.

Anne Brosnan, Chief Prosecutor for the Environment Agency 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."

In a statement after the fine, Thames Water chief executive Steve Robertson said: “We deeply regret each of these incidents at six of our sites during the period 2012-14. We asked for these incidents to be considered and sentenced together, because it was clear that our performance in this part of our region, at that time, was not up to the very high standards that we and our customers expect.

"Since then we’ve reviewed how we do things at all levels and made a number of key changes. These have included increasing the numbers of staff in key operational roles and investing heavily to improve reliability. As a result, our performance has significantly improved. We understand our huge responsibilities to the environment, have learned from these serious events, and continue to invest at the rate of around £20 million a week on continually improving our service to our customers and the environment."

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