Thames Water fined record £20m for sewage leak

Leaks led to death of wildlife, widespread environmental damage and put a fisherman out of work

Water pollution; Thames Water fined
(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

Thames Water has been hit with the highest fine ever handed down to a water company over an environmental disaster, says the BBC.

It was hit with a £20.3m penalty after 1.4 billion litres of untreated water waste were leaked into the Thames and its tributaries over 2013 and 2014, says the Daily Mail.

"Fish and birds died after tampons, condoms and sanitary towels were left floating in the river," says the Financial Times.

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"A nine-year-old boy, who had sailing lessons on the river, was struck down with a severe stomach bug, while a fisherman went out of business because the pollution killed his crayfish."

Issues were found at sewage treatment works at Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow and a large sewage pumping station at Littlemore.

In addition to the damaging the river itself, the BBC says there was considerable "environmental damage" to the riverside towns of Henley and Marlow.

The utility, which services almost a quarter of the UK population, mostly concentrated around London and the south-east, apologised profusely for the dumping and said that the £20m would be paid by shareholders, including funds from China and Abu Dhabi, and not customers.

Company director Richard Aylard said: "We have failed in our responsibility to the environment and that hurts both personally and professionally because we do care.

"We've also failed in our responsibility to our customers who pay us to provide an essential public service all the time, every day and not just some of the time, and we apologise for all of those failings.

"But in the three years since the last of those incidents we have learnt our lesson – there have been sweeping, far-reaching changes across the waste water business."

Fines for water companies have substantially increased following a change in the law in 2014. Thames Water itself was fined £1m last year after it allowed sewage to leak into the Grand Union Canal.

The highest penalty prior to today was the £2m issued to Southern Water last December for flooding beaches in Margate, Kent with raw sewage.

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