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

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - by KATY CLIFTON & QASIM PERACHA katy.clifton@trin­i­tymir­ror.com qasim.peracha@trin­i­tymir­ror.com Twit­ter: @Katy_Clifton1 @qasim­per­acha

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

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