Guildford Crown Court has fined Thames Water £220,000 and ordered it to pay £27,500 costs for polluting a watercourse running through a site of special scientific interest and killing scores of fish.
The case was referred to the court for sentencing by Redhill Magistrates’ Court because of its seriousness and to ensure stiffer financial penalties were imposed on the company. The lower court had been told that partly treated sewage from Thames Water’s Camberley treatment works was allowed to pollute the River Blackwell twice in September 2012.
The first incident, on 7 September, killed more than 100 fish by depriving them of oxygen over a 1.5km stretch of the watercourse. Agency officers traced the problem back to the treatment works. Thames Water argued that contractors had been at fault, but the court concluded that the company had been “reckless in relation to the incident” and that “significant environmental harm had been caused”.
On 30 September, Thames Water told the agency about hour-long illegal discharge into the river from storm tanks at the site. Thames Water accepted that the problem was due to a blockage that caused toilet paper and sewage debris to build up. This resulted in raw sewage being diverted to the storm tanks. Judge Lucas concluded that the company had been negligent in allowing the blockage to occur, and that a discharge of that nature would have resulted in some harm to water quality.
Thames Water pleaded guilty to causing pollution to an environmentally sensitive site on both occasions. A spokesperson said: “We very much regret this incident and have reviewed procedures and invested in new equipment at the treatment works to reduce the chance of anything like this happening again.”
Agency officer Andrew Valantine commented: “Unfortunately, the first incident was a serious one which led to fish being killed and the water quality being badly affected over a significant stretch of the river.”