Thames Water fined £2 million for “reckless” pollution incident

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Thames Water has been fined £2 million after raw sewage polluted two Oxfordshire streams, killing local fish and damaging the marine environment. The sewage also flooded nearby gardens.

Numerous failures in the management of a sewage pumping station operated by the company cause sewage from local Oxfordshire villages to discharge into nearby streams, leading to further pollution of the River Evenlode, a tributary of the River Thames.

At Oxford Crown Court on 21 December, Judge Peter Ross ruled the incident in 2015 as a high-end, category three harm offence.

The incident was first reported by a member of the public who saw dead fish in the Idbury Brook. An investigation by the Environment Agency (EA) revealed a backlog of raw sewage was forced into the water from a sewer pipe that couldn’t hold it. Sewage also escaped from a manhole and onto a residential front garden.

The entire local population of almost 150 bullhead fish had been killed by the toxic sewage waste along a 50-metre stretch of water. With further damage to other marine life.

Robert Davis, who led the investigation for the EA, said the incident was foreseeable and avoidable. “These streams are normally a haven for kingfishers, grey herons, brown trout and other fish and invertebrates. Sewage poured into the water for 24 hours, having a terrible impact, killing fish and other water life.”

The court heard Thames Water disregarded more than 800 high-priority alarms needing attention within four hours in the six weeks before the incident. Another 300 alarms were not properly investigated, all of which would have pointed out failures with the pumping station. One alarm was deliberately deactivated during a night shift.

In summing up, Judge Peter Ross described Thames Water’s unacceptable level of environmental risk as “reckless” in polluting Idbury and Littlestock brooks.

During the investigation, EA officers also discovered other information showing repeated problems with the pumping station in the year before the pollution, which Thames Water failed to report to the EA.

Thames Water was fined £2 million for the pollution incident and ordered to pay full costs of £79,991.57. The company also pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two charges of breaching environmental law.

Last reviewed 7 January 2019

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