Thames Water was fined £2.3m on Friday for a leak of untreated sewage into the Fawley Court ditch in April 2016 that resulted in the death of 1,200 fish and damaged the environment.
Francis Sheridan, the judge in the case at Aylesbury crown court, said Thames Water’s breach of environmental standards constituted “high negligence.”
The company also received a record £20m fine in March 2017 for a series of pollution incidents at sewage facilities in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire which led to the pumping of 1.9bn litres of untreated sewage into the Thames.
In the latest case the court heard that Thames Water’s warning systems of low levels of oxygen in the water had been activated over a number of days, but that effective action had not been taken in response. Sheridan said he wanted a deterrent element to be built into the sentence and for that reason he had set the fine high.
Thames Water initially sought to get the case dismissed, but the judge rejected this attempt. He accepted in mitigation that Thames Water had taken significant steps to improve matters since the incident. Its eventual decision to plead guilty to the offences was also recognised a mitigating factor.
Rooma Horeesorun, the Environment Agency’s senior lawyer welcomed the sentence and large fine. She said, “This fine reflects the growing trend in courts to acknowledge the seriousness of environmental offences of this kind and shows how the courts are playing a vital role in protecting the environment for future generations.”
It was reported earlier this month that Thames Water had been discharging untreated sewage into a chalk stream in Buckinghamshire which campaigners say has caused untold harm to trout fry and river habitats.
Thames Water’s CEO, Sarah Bentley, who joined the company in September, said, “We’re really sorry for what happened in Henley four years ago. Discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable and we will work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary. Our business plan for the next five years includes an unprecedented amount of investment, much of it directed towards safeguarding the environment.”
“We have a long way to go and we certainly can’t do it on our own, but the ambition is clear. My aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them. I am passionate that we set out stretching targets and learn from past mistakes like this. There is still a lot to clean up from the past and also a great deal to invest in the future, with today a brilliant example of both.”