(Sharecast News) – Scandal-ridden and debt-laden utility Thames Water has been slapped with a £3.3m fine for pumping millions of litres of undiluted sewage was pumped into rivers near Gatwick Airport in 2017 and then attempting to mislead regulators over the incident.
The company, which has hit the headlines over its financial future and poor environmental record, had made a “deliberate attempt” to mislead the Environment Agency over the incident, such as by omitting water readings and submitting a report to the regulator denying responsibility, Judge Christine Laing said in Lewes Crown Court after a two-day hearing.
The court was was told there was a “significant and lengthy” period of polluting the Gatwick Stream and River Mole between Crawley in West Sussex and Horley in Surrey on October 11 2017.
Thames Water had pleaded guilty on February 28 to four charges relating to illegally discharging waste in October 2017, but had denied seeking to mislead the Environment Agency in the events, instead arguing “significant errors were made.”.
The court heard how a storm pump unexpectedly activated and was filling up the storm tank, despite no substantial rainfall, for 21 hours which went unnoticed.
On October 11, 2017, the pump then began spilling the sewage into the river for an estimated six hours. The court heard how no specific alarms to alert staff to the overspill, or how long the undiluted sewage was entering the tank, was in place.
When an alarm was heard, the lead technician was uncontactable as they were awaiting a new mobile phone, which Laing said she found it “utterly extraordinary”.
Thames Water has been fine 20 time previously for pollution spillage. The latest penalty comes as the firm, which serves 15 million households across London and Thames Valley, faces concerns over its future amid a debt pile of £14bn.
Thames Water’s chief executive Sarah Bentley stepped down with immediate effect last week after she gave up her bonus due to the company’s environmental performance.
The record fine against a water company for illegal discharge of sewage is held by Southern Water at £90 million for nearly 7,000 incidents across Hampshire, Kent and Sussex in a case brought by the Environment Agency in 2021.
Reporting by Frank Prenesti for Sharecast.com