Water company fined £426,000 for repeated sewage leaks

25th July 2016

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Kieran Patel

Severn Trent Water has been found negligent and fined almost half a million pounds after raw sewage polluted a watercourse on three separate occasions in one year.

The sewage polluted the Shire Brook on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in May and December 2013 and April 2014. The first two incidents involved a sewer belonging to the company backing up and leaking into the surface water drain that led into the brook. In the third incident, a blocked combined sewer resulted in thick sewage sludge and solids polluting a hillside as well as the brook, said the Environment Agency.

Passing sentence at Nottingham Crown Court, Mrs Justice Carr said that Severn Trent Water had been wrong not to take action after the first incident on the basis that the problem had not occurred before. ‘There was a known risk and Severn Trent’s approach was insufficiently proactive,’ she said.

Severn Trent failed to take reasonable care and enforce proper systems for avoiding the third offence and were therefore negligent, the judge added. ‘The risks were entirely foreseeable and Severn Trent did not proactively investigate the sewers in response,’ she said.

However, the judge acknowledged that the firm’s clean-up operation was swift and effective. She fined Severn Trent £426,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £38,642 plus a victim surcharge of £120.

An agency officer involved in the investigation said: ‘Severn Trent Water has a responsibility to inspect and maintain its sewers, and the discharge of raw sewage into the same brook three times within 12 months is more than unfortunate.

‘This is one of the largest fines ever imposed on Severn Trent and I hope it sends a strong message that it is far more cost effective to avoid these incidents, as we will continue to take action against companies and individuals where they ignore their responsibilities,’ the officer said.

According to the agency, the fine imposed by the court was above the ranges suggested by the Sentencing Council Guidelines was intended to to send a message to Severn Trent Water and its shareholders.

A spokesperson for Severn Trent Water said: ‘We are truly sorry for the impact the blockages in our sewer pipes had on the Shire Brook. The blockages were unrelated and fortunately there wasn’t any impact on wildlife in the local watercourse. Each time we worked closely with the agency to clean up the area affected.

‘In addition, over the past 12 months we’ve worked hard to improve our environmental performance across the whole of our region, and have significantly reduced the number of pollution incidents we’ve had. Moving forward, we’re investing £125m over the next five years to maintain our sewer pipes to prevent blockages like this from happening in the first place.’

Severn Trent says it has reduced pollution incidents by 21% between April 2015 and March 2016.

In November, Severn Trent Water was fined £480,000 for polluting a pond and then a brook in south Yorkshire in 2014.

This story was updated on 26 July with new pollution data from Severn Trent for 2015/16.


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