In court: April 2016

7th April 2016


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Thames Water receives six-figure financial penalty

Aylesbury Crown Court has fined Thames Water £380,000 for polluting a watercourse in Buckinghamshire with sewage. The company was also ordered to pay costs of £23,092 and a victim surcharge of £120.

The court was told that an Environment Agency officer performing an routine fish survey of Horsenden stream in February 2013 discovered the pollution. He was forced to stop work for his own welfare because of the amount in the watercourse, part of the River Thame catchment area in the Chilterns. The pollution was traced to Thames Water’s Princes Risborough sewage treatment works. Agency officers found further discharges during a site visit on 5 March 2013, when the sewage in places looked like feathers, and on 19 July 2013, which was caused by a blockage at the works.

The Recorder of Aylesbury, Judge Sheridan, said were it not for the initial survey, the incidents were unlikely to have come to light. The agency blamed management failures at the site for the incidents, which it said were ongoing. It described as lamentable the failings at the treatment works and confirmed that the shortcomings had caused the site to breach its permit several times between February and July 2013.

An agency investigation found that inlet screens, designed to prevent debris entering the treatment works and causing blockages, were not working and the storm tank pump was broken. Although the permit allowed Thames Water to discharge sewage during storms as long as stringent conditions were met, the agency said the site’s weir was set too low, allowing discharges of effluent when it should have been passing through the works for treatment.

Agency officer Holly Linham said: ‘One of the officers had never seen sewage fungus in a stream that bad before. A biological survey of the stream noted that the impact of the sewage was chronic and was likely to have been prevalent for some time. The conditions observed during visits were not isolated incidents. Logbook entries suggest ongoing discharges and other problems at a site that was struggling to cope.’

Thames Water pleaded guilty to the offences at Wycombe Magistrates’ Court on 5 August 2015 and was committed to Aylesbury Crown Court for sentencing. The firm has since changed the management structure at the site and raised the storm weir.

In January, Thames Water was fined a record £1 million after it repeatedly polluted the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal with sewage from its Tring treatment works between July 2012 and April 2013.

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