THAMES WATER has been hit with a record penalty for a water pollution of £20.3 million – ten times higher than the previous highest fine.
In the biggest case of its kind ever brought by the Environment Agency, Aylesbury Crown Court imposed a massive fine of £19.7 million plus over £600,000 costs.
The bloated privatised utilities company allowed 1.4 billion litres of raw sewage to flow into six sites on the River Thames and tributaries in 2013-14.
Judge Sheridan condemned Thames Water’s conduct as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘entirely foreseeable and preventable’.
Sheridan remarked: “It was a very dark period in the history of Thames Water who demonstrated scant regard for the law, with dreadful results.”
The two worse sites were the sewage treatment plants at Aylesbury and Little Marlow both in Buckinghamshire where TW were fined £9 and £8 million respectively. Smaller fines were imposed for discharges at Henley, Didcot, Littlemore and Arborfield.
A Thames West EA spokesman said: “Large numbers of fish were killed at individual sites – collectively across the six sites many hundreds of dead fish were observed by EA officers and by witnesses.
“Many of the fish killed, in the case of Aylesbury were mature adult chub up to 15 years of age and there were also dead perch and pike and invasive signal crayfish.
“The aquatic insect life in the river was also impacted with observed declines in invertebrate numbers in the river, and one witness describing a sudden decline in dragonflies and damsel flies. This sort of impact has a knock on effect on the ecosystem as a whole.
“We are talking about sustained and chronic pollution over a long time period so many fish may have been killed outside the period of incident attendance and observation,” he added.
More legal action to come?
THE whole of the £19.7 million fine goes straight to the Government treasury, but TW might face more legal challenges and compensation claims.
Angling Trust and Fish Legal chief executive Mark Lloyd remarked: “We believe the EA should be able to recover more of the costs of its investigations from polluters in cases such as this, to provide it with the resources necessary to carry out more prosecutions of those causing damage to the environment and other people’s livelihoods.
“Fish Legal will be discussing with its member angling clubs the need for compensation and restocking costs above and beyond the voluntary payments which have already been made by TW.”
Club suffers through fish losses
Barry Mullins, chairman of Thame AC, who has seen members drop from 300 to 100 since the pollution, explained: “The whole thing has been a disaster for the river, our own club and others along the river.
“The Thame was once a pristine river full of fish but the fish stocks have declined by 10 per cent year on year according to EA testing and now it is much harder to catch.
“The EA did a fish count on one of our tributaries last August and not a single fish was found in a 200 yard stretch.
“As a result we have drastically lost members and income, therefore we have had to give up renting some of the stretches – it’s a vicious circle.
“Other clubs have been similarly affected and one even had to close.
“We are pleased with the huge penalty but nobody at Thames Water has been held to account and the money itself goes straight to the Treasury.
“We have yet to receive any compensation from Thames Water and there has been no restocking from the EA,” he concluded.
TW has voluntarily added £1.5 million to its community fund which is available for grants to local environmental groups, and paid out over £300,000 in compensation.
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