02:17PM, Saturday 18 March 2017
Thames Water is expected to be slapped with a record fine over a series of waste spills which unleashed more than a billion litres of sewage.
The utility firm has been in the dock after pleading guilty to a total of 14 offences, including two at a sewage treatment plant at Little Marlow in 2013.
And speaking at Aylesbury Crown Court yesterday (Friday) (March 17), his Honour Judge Francis Sheridan repeated a previous warning that it is up to the company to accept responsibility – not pass the buck to customers through higher bills.
"I have to make the fine sufficiently large that they [Thames Water] get the message,” he said.
"Alarms going off for days on end, certainly for more than 24 hours.
"Poor quality equipment, anglers put out of business, fishermen put out of business, the farmers' cattle poisoned.
"That is why the fine has to be sufficiently large to bring it home to Thames Water - start to comply.
"There's no point saying 'mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa'."
The largest fine to have been levied on a water company is the £2m Southern Water was told to pay following a sewage leak which forced beaches in Margate to close over a bank holiday weekend.
The investigation into the Thames Water spills was also one of the biggest and most expensive ever carried out by the Environment agency, believed to be second only to its enquiry into the Buncefield fire at the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal, near Hemel Hempstead.
Over the course of the sentencing hearing, Judge Sheridan has been scathing about the failings which led to the spills, variously calling it ‘truly disgusting’, ‘unacceptable’ and ‘a wicked breach’.
However, the judge also signalled a degree of understanding for the firm, accepting that it could not always be held responsible for things which caused blockages in its systems.
He said: "There's plenty that can be laid at their (TW) door, but if people used their intelligence and stopped putting non-disposable nappies down the toilet then a lot of this could have been avoided.
"If you haven't eaten it and it's not lavatory paper, don't put it down the lavatory - simple as that.”
Speaking outside the court during a break in proceedings, Thames Water CEO Steve Robertson, who was not in post at the time of the offences, said he was sorry and that ‘dramatic changes’ had been enacted in the firm as a result.
Sentence is expected to be passed on Wednesday at Aylesbury Crown Court.
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