Thames Water slapped with £3.3m fine for "reckless" sewage dump

Thames Water has incurred the penalty for what has been described as a “reckless” incident that resulted in the pollution of the Gatwick Stream and River Mole, spanning Crawley in West Sussex and Horley in Surrey. The sentencing judge, Christine Laing KC, criticised the company for deliberately attempting to mislead the Environment Agency by omitting water readings and submitting a report denying responsibility.

Although Thames Water pleaded guilty to four charges related to the illegal discharge of waste, it denied allegations of seeking to mislead the regulator, claiming that “significant errors were made.” The court learned that an overflow storm tank was unexpectedly filled by a storm pump, unnoticed for 21 hours, which subsequently caused the discharge of sewage into the river for approximately six hours on October 11, 2017.

The company was rebuked by Judge Laing KC, who pointed out their history of 20 previous fines for pollution spillage, including the biggest fine on record just six months earlier. She stressed that Thames Water should have taken a more proactive approach to fixing the problem areas.

The financial penalty adds to Thames Water’s growing concerns about its future as it grapples with mounting debt. Just last week, Sarah Bentley, the company’s chief executive, stepped down immediately after relinquishing her bonus in response to the company’s environmental performance.

Notably, the record for the largest fine imposed for the illegal discharge of sewage stands at £90m, imposed on Southern Water for nearly 7,000 cases across Hampshire, Kent, and Sussex in a prosecution initiated by the Environment Agency in 2021.

In addition to the £3.3m fine, Thames Water has been ordered to pay the Environment Agency’s costs, amounting to nearly £129,000.

This latest prosecution brings the total amount paid by Thames Water for pollution incidents between 2017 and 2023 to a staggering £35.7m.

Following the sentencing, Jamie Lloyd, who headed the Environment Agency investigation, expressed disappointment over Thames Water’s failure to prevent pollution and provide essential information upon request. Lloyd highlighted the company’s role in causing an avoidable environmental impact due to inadequate systems and a lack of response to alarms.