The water firm was fined £4 million at Aylesbury Crown Court after pleading guilty to the pollution incidents, which took place near its Hogsmill sewage works between 2016 and 2019 in Kingston, south west London.
The firm was prosecuted by the Environment Agency for a number of incidents. Around 27 January, sewage sludge was discharged from Hogsmill sewage treatment works into Hogsmill River. Between 13 and 16 October 2018, raw untreated sewage and sewage debris was discharged onto Green Lane Recreation Ground and into California Road Ditch and Hogsmill River via manholes.
And finally, around 24 September 2019, raw untreated sewage and sewage debris escaped onto Green Lane Recreation Ground via a manhole.
It is not the largest pollution fine the firm has received. In 2017, it was fined a record £20m for “systemic” management failures that polluted the Thames and surrounding areas with millions of tonnes of raw sewage.
In 2018, a judge found that Thames Water had engaged in “reckless” behaviour for allowing tens of thousands of litres of raw sewage to escape from a pipeline in Oxfordshire. The incident took place after hundreds of alarms at a malfunctioning sewage pumping station were ignored, which also led to sewer flooding of a front garden. The firm was fined £2m, with almost £80,000 in costs.
And in March this year, the water company was hit with a £2.3m fine for an “entirely foreseeable” pollution incident that leaked raw sewage into a stream that feeds the river Thames at Henley-on-Thames, killing around 1,200 fish.
Thames Water pleaded guilty to depositing sewage waste at the recreation ground in February 2016. The court also took into consideration breach of a permit regarding that incident, and discharging into the Hogsmill River in January and October 2018, and an incident in September 2019, when sewage sludge was released from Hogsmill sewage treatment works in error.
The Environment Agency charged Thames Water under sections 33 (1) (a) and 33 (6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and regulations 12 (1) (b), 38 (1) (a) and 38 (2) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
This latest conviction brings the total amount of fines given to Thames Water since 2017 to £28.4 million for 10 cases of water pollution, according to the Environment Agency.
Steve Spencer, Thames Water operations director, said the firm was very sorry for “what happened at Hogsmill sewage works five years ago, and the other three incidents that have been sentenced”, adding that it “doesn’t reflect how much we care about the environment, our customers and communities, and it’s not how we want to perform”.
Sewage pollution: The 9 EA prosecutions currently underway
The firm has “developed a turnaround plan which focuses on significantly improving our performance, with an unprecedented amount of investment directed towards safeguarding the environment”, he said.
“We’re pleased the judge recognised this new approach in his comments, and we are determined to deliver on our promises. We strongly believe that discharges of untreated sewage are unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and we will work with our stakeholders to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.”
Thames Water says its business plan for the next five years “will deliver environmental improvements to 745km of rivers across the region. The use of digital technology to create a more intelligent network and enable more proactive maintenance and repair will help drive a step change in pollution reductions”.
Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd has called for an increase in the size of pollution fines so that they act as a greater deterrent.