Unprecedented £20m fine handed to Thames Water for ‘diabolical’ pollution of Bucks river
Court told of canoe groups avoiding faeces and used tampons and nappies in river
THAMES Water will have to pay an unprecedented £20 million fine for polluting the River Thames with one billion litres of raw sewage, a judge ruled yesterday (Wednesday).
Judge Sheridan condemned Thames Water’s failings as “diabolical” and called their conduct “disgraceful”.
The water company appeared at Aylesbury Crown Court for sentencing after four of its sewage treatment works – in Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow – pumped unfiltered effluent into the river in 2013 and 2014.
The facilities served in excess of 320,000 people.
The Judge went on to say that the pollution was “a totally avoidable breach in legislation” and the failings would have been foreseeable by any “competent operator”.
“Your behaviour was the top end of reckless and, in my view, it was borderline deliberate” he added.
The total fine, of £20,361,140, includes £9 million for pollution at Aylesbury, £8 million for Little Marlow, £800,000 for Didcot and £950,000 for Henley and Littlemoore.
The figure also includes costs to the court of £611,000. All money must be paid within 56 days.
“The fine must be large enough to bring the message home to directors and shareholders,” the judge added.
“The fines provided on past offences show that the message did not hit home. The fines given will be made by Thames Wa- ter and not by the customers.”
The fine trumps the then-record sum of £1 million Thames Water were ordered to pay in January last year, for polluting the Wendover arm of the Grand Union canal with partially treated sewage from their Tring Sewage Treatment Works.
The court also heard how canoe groups had to avoid faeces while stepping in and out of their boats, and members of the public also came across balls of fat, nappies and tampons in the river.
Judge Sheridan went on to call the situation a “deplorable state of affairs”, adding, “I do not accept that the lower level management are the only ones to blame.”
The judge found Thames Water ‘negligent’ over pollution at Didcot and Henley and ‘reckless’ over pollution at Little Marlow and Aylesbury.
After the hearing 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.” He added: “We will be holding open days at each of these sites later this year so our customers and stakeholders can see the improvements we have made and speak to the operational teams who work hard to maintain high standards at the works. In addition, we will be adding £1.5 million to our Community Investment Fund, ringfenced for projects to improve the river, its wildlife and surrounding environment at the affected locations.”
Your behaviour was at the top end of reckless ... border line deliberate Judge Sheridan
Steve Robertson was appointed CEO of Thames water in September 2016