Last reviewed 13 July 2021

Southern Water has been sentenced to pay record £90 million in fines for widespread pollution after pleading guilty to 6971 illegal sewage discharges.

The sentence follows 51 guilty pleas of widespread and “deliberate” breaches of environmental law by Southern Water Services (SWS) between 2010 and 2015. 

The case, which is the largest criminal investigation in the Environment Agency’s 25-year history, relates to pollution offences from SES’s 16 wastewater treatment works and one storm overflow. Commenting on the sentence at Canterbury High Court, Chair of the Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd said; “polluters must pay” and “no one should profit from undermining environmental laws”.

“Like all water companies, Southern Water has a responsibility to operate in accordance with permit conditions and protect against serious pollution. In its deliberate, widespread and repeated offending, it has failed the environment, customers and the system of environmental laws the public puts its trust in.”

The court was told that the illegal sewage discharges were made into highly sensitive protected areas, including numerous conservation sites, and that Southern Water deliberately presented a misleading picture of compliance to the Environment Agency, in an effort to hinder proper regulation of the company.

In passing sentence, the Honourable Mr Justice Johnson said the 51 offences “shows a shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment … for human health, and for the fisheries and other legitimate businesses that depend on the vitality of the coastal waters”.

“Each offence does not stand in isolation. It is necessary to sentence the company for the totality of the offences to which it has pleaded guilty,” Justice Johnson added.  

This was the second time in two years Southern Water has been found guilty of failing its legal obligations. In 2019, penalties amounting to £126 million were imposed on the company for breaches of licence conditions and “serious failures” at its sewage treatment sites.