The EA is prosecuting fewer pollution cases than in the past. Photograph: Robert Brook/Science Photo Library/Getty Images The EA is prosecuting fewer pollution cases than in the past. Photograph: Robert Brook/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Sewage pollution: The 9 EA prosecutions currently underway

1 Southern Water awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to 51 pollution charges 

Observers have been speculating whether Southern Water’s multiple breaches of the Environmental Permitting Regulations and the Water Resources Act will culminate in a record fine, beating Thames Water’s £20m in 2017 for “systemic” management failures that polluted the Thames and surrounding areas with millions of tonnes of raw sewage.

The Environment Agency issued proceedings against Southern Water in February, saying there had been 8,400 unlawful and non-compliant incidents of sewage "escaping" Southern Water plants at 17 sites, “4,000 of which had lasted for more than an hour”.

In March, the firm pleaded guilty to 51 breaches at works situated across Kent, Hampshire and West Sussex. Speaking at the time at Maidstone Crown Court, Southern Water chief executive Ian McAulay said: “We accept that in the past Southern Water let down customers and the wider community. We are truly sorry this happened and I have been working with a new team to build an ethical working culture that ensures we do the right thing for customers and for the environment.”

The Kent plants involved in the case are: Eastchurch in Sheppey, Diamond Road in Whitstable, Ashlett Creek, Herne Bay, Teynham, Sittingbourne, Queenborough and Swalecliffe. In Hampshire: Slowhill Copse, Beaulieu, Milbrook, Budds Farm, Portswood, Thornham and Woolston. In West Sussex, the plants in breach of water rules are located at Bosham and Chichester. Sentencing is scheduled for 6-8 July. 

Southern Water has been fined multiple times over the years, with its highest fine to date being £2m for permit breaches that left the beaches of Margate and in Kent polluted with sewage in 2012 and 2014.

In 2019, it received £128m in penalties from Ofwat. The regulator found that Southern’s underinvestment in infrastructure had led to sewage spills and equipment failure and that it had manipulated wastewater sampling procedures to give a misleading impression of its performance.

2 Anglian Water pumping station failure

The agency is attempting to prosecute Anglian Water for what it says is a failure of its inlet pumping station in June 2016 at the Shenfield and Hutton Water Recycling Centre, near Billericay, Essex, which resulted in all incoming sewage discharging into the river Wid, a category one incident in breach of environmental permitting rules. The first hearing was due to take place at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on 15 April this year. 

3 Anglian Water telemetry failure

A second case being pursued by the agency is over an emergency overflow at its Brackley Terminal Pumping Station in Northamptonshire, which took place on 24 May 2017 for 23 hours as a result of a failure of Anglian Water’s telemetry, in breach of permitting regulations. Evidence is to be served imminently on this category one pollution event, according to the agency, with the first hearing listed at Peterborough Magistrates Court today.

4 Yorkshire Water blockages

Between 3 and 9 November 2017, Yorkshire Water’s Dale Road Sewage Pumping Station at Cockerdale in Bradford was blocked, according to the Environment Agency, causing a category one pollution incident. The blockage, in its rising main valve box, caused raw sewage to spill over land and into a watercourse, in breach of permitting regulations. A regulators code letter was issued in February of this year and the agency is waiting to hear from the court with a listing date for its first hearing.  

5 Yorkshire Water sewage sludge pollution

In March 2017, sewage sludge from Yorkshire Water’s Balby sewage works entered a surface drain due to the failure of a valve on a primary settlement tank and went into Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, causing a category three incident, according to the agency. In addition to this, ammonia levels exceeded permitted levels, it said. Yorkshire Water was due to appear at Sheffield Magistrates Court at the end of last month for sentencing. 

6 Northumbrian Water leaking manholes

In March 2017 at Coundon Burn, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, leaking manholes on consecutive days were caused by blockages of brick(s)/rubble in a combined sewer, culminating in a category one incident, according to the Environment Agency. Northumbrian Water has said it is not guilty of breaching permitting regulations and a pre trial hearing was due at the beginning of April, having been postponed from March. 

7 Northumbrian Water sewage spill

A category one raw sewage spill from Heads Hope Dene, Castle Eden, County Durham on 22 May 2017 was caused by a fractured foul sewer running underneath woodland. Tree root ingress and loose objects led to a blockage, according to the agency. Northumbrian Water has entered a not guilty plea and a pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 16 June with the trial commencing on 4 October. 

8 Thames Water multiple sewage discharges

Category two and three pollution incidents took place across a number of dates - 8 February 2016; 27 January 2018; between 13 and 16 October 2018; and on or about 24 September 2019 - from the Hogsmill Sewage Treatment Works, Green Lane Recreation Ground, the Hogsmill River and the Californian ditch, in New Malden, London, according to the agency. 

A discharge of raw untreated sewage and sewage rag and debris from Worcester Park Tunnel at the Hogsmill works via a manhole, ran into the Hogsmill River and also deposited raw untreated sewage and sewage rag and debris onto land, it said, in breach of multiple regulations. Thames Water has entered a guilty plea to one count, with four others taken into consideration.

A sentencing hearing was listed at Aylesbury Crown Court for 30 April and 21 May 2021.

9 Thames Water manhole overflow

Between 23 and 27 July 2016, there was an emergency overflow from a manhole adjacent to the Westminster/Westway junction in Botley, Kennington, according to the agency. The result of an operational failure, there was a blockage of a foul water sewer system, allowing sewage to enter the Seacourt Stream and the Hinksey Stream in Oxford for approximately 23 hours. Thames Water pleaded guilty to one charge and the case was sent up to Aylesbury Crown Court, where a case management hearing was listed for 7 April 2021.

None of the water firms were able to comment on the ongoing cases.


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