Thames Water Utilities Limited has been ordered to pay a record £20,361,140.06 in fines and costs for a series of pollution incidents on the Thames
The case stems from Thames Water repeatedly and illegally discharging sewage from its sites in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire into the Thames and its tributaries over a number of weeks. This resulted in major environmental damage including visible sewage along 14 kilometres of the river as well as the death of numerous birds and fish. In addition, the discharges caused significant distress and problems for local residents, farmers, businesses, and recreational users of the affected stretch.
The prosecution was brought in six separate cases by the Environment Agency and were heard together at Aylesbury Crown Court. The Environment Agency has described it as the biggest fresh water pollution case in its entire history.
The presiding Judge, His Honour Judge Sheridan, described the action of Thames Water as “disgraceful conduct” which was “entirely foreseeable and preventable”. Interestingly, the Judge also said that the fines must be met by Thames Water and not passed on to its customers, on the basis that it was the company, not its customers, who broke the law.
This is an extreme, record breaking case. It comes shortly after Heineken UK gave the Environment Agency an Enforcement Undertaking worth more than £160,000 following them emptying ammonia-contaminated water into a drain at their Bulmers cider plant – as covered in our Field Talk – Spring 2017 newsletter (page 5).
Both these cases emphasise that the Environment Agency will robustly pursue pollution incidents. The Thames Water case also starkly demonstrates that if matters cannot be resolved with the Environment Agency and a prosecution is brought then the Court has the power to – and will – impose substantial fines.
When pollution incidents occur, an early, considered and effective response is absolutely key. This can be the difference between the polluter being prosecuted or being able to deal with the matter without Court involvement.
Further stories on the case can be found here:
- BBC News: Thames Water fined £20m for sewage spill
- GOV.UK: Thames Water ordered to pay record £20 million for river pollution
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