Sewage spill costs Thames Water £345,000

18th April 2011

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  • Prosecution ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Water



Allowing thousands of litres of raw sewage to discharge into gardens, allotments, homes and streams over a 10-week period has cost Thames Water Utilities more than £345,000.

The decision brought to an end a legal process that has taken eight years and has involved both the High Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Bromley Magistrates’ Court heard that in February 2003 sewage escaped from a manhole in the garden of a property in the Kentish town. The discharge of sewage stopped the next day, before continuing intermittently over the next two months, peaking on 3 March 2003.

On a number of occasions sewage was coming out of the manhole because the pumps set up by the contractors had run out of fuel, completely stopped, or else insufficient pumps were available.

Thames Water fought a legal battle against prosecution, particularly the Environment Agency’s decision to pursue waste deposit offences.

The water company argued that escaped sewage is subject to the EU urban wastewater treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) only and not the waste framework Directive (WFD) (2006/12/EC).

The ECJ ruled that wastewater escaping from a sewerage network did constitute waste for the purposes of the WFD, but said an exemption may apply if national legislation contains precise provisions to achieve the same level of protection of the environment required by the Directive.

The High Court, however, ruled that there is no other system of rules or laws that achieve the level of protection of the environment required by the WFD except the general waste legislation, so the sewage discharge is controlled waste” for the purposes of s.33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Bromley Magistrates’ Court fined Thames Water £204,000 for 15 environmental offences and ordered it to pay the agency costs of £139,689.98 and compensation totalling £2,250.


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