river thames Water has been fined £3.3million for a “reckless” incident in 2017 in which “millions of liters” of undiluted sewage were pumped into rivers near Gatwick Airport.
A two-day hearing at Lewes Crown Court announced that there had been “significant and prolonged” pollution of the Gatwick Stream and River Mole between Crawley in West Sussex and Horley in Surrey on 11 October 2017.
Judge Christine Laing KC said Tuesday that she believes river thames Water had shown a “deliberate attempt” to mislead the Environment Agency about the incident, for example by not taking water measurements and submitting a report to the regulator denying responsibility.
river thames Water had pleaded guilty on February 28 to four charges related to the illegal dumping of waste in October 2017, but had denied trying to mislead the Environment Agency in the incidents, instead arguing that “made significant mistakes became”.
The court heard how a stormwater pump was unexpectedly activated and unnoticed filled the stormwater basin for 21 hours, even though there was no significant rainfall.
Then, on October 11, 2017, the pump began pumping the sewage into the river for about six hours. The court heard there were no specific alarms to warn staff of the overflow or how long the undiluted sewage was left in the tank.
When an alarm sounded, the lead technician was unavailable as he was waiting for a new cell phone.
Judge Laing KC said she found it “completely extraordinary” that environmental disasters could occur as a result of such issues.
Addressing the largest water utility, which had issued 20 spill fines, including the highest ever fine six months before the incident, Judge Laing KC added, “You should have made every effort to eliminate the problem areas.”
This fine comes from the water company, which serves 15 million homes across London river thames Valley faces worries about its future as debt mounts.
river thames Water chief executive Sarah Bentley resigned effective immediately last week after forgoing her bonus due to the company’s environmental performance.
The record fine against a water company for illegally discharging waste water is set at £90million by Southern Water for nearly 7,000 incidents in Hampshire, Kent and Sussex in a case brought by the Environment Agency in 2021.