Prosecutions

Southern Water fined £90 million for 'shocking' pollution offences

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Southern Water has been sentenced to pay a record £90 million in fines for widespread pollution after pleading guilty to 6,971 unpermitted sewage discharges.


The fine came after the company pleaded guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage which polluted rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex.

There were a total of 6,971 unpermitted sewage discharges. At Canterbury Crown Court on 9 July, it was heard that these were ‘widespread and long term’ breaches of environmental law which took place between 2010 and 2015.

People enjoy swimming in Ramsgate in Kent, one of the coastlines where Southern Water pumped its sewage for five years between 2010-2015. Photograph: iStock

The offences were found to be caused by deliberate failings, causing major harm (Category 1) to protected areas, conservation sites and oyster beds.

The case is the largest criminal investigation in the Environment Agency’s 25-year history. It brought together in one prosecution pollution offences from 16 waste water treatment works and one storm overflow.

In giving his sentence, the Honourable Mr Justice Johnson said: “Each of the 51 offences seen in isolation shows a shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment, for the precious and delicate ecosytems along the North Kent and Solent coastlines, for human health, and for the fisheries and other legitimate businesses that depend on the vitality of the coastal waters.”

“Each offence does not stand in isolation. It is necessary to sentence the company for the totality of the offences to which it has pleaded guilty. But even that does not reflect the defendant’s criminality. That is because the offences are aggravated by its previous persistent pollution of the environment over very many years.”

Commenting on the case, lawyers Michael Salau and Jade Archer at Beale &Co said that: “Whilst we accept that the Southern Water fine is at the top end of the scale, this prosecution serves as a stark reminder that it is important that organisations and their directors take appropriate steps to comply with environmental legislation as any breaches are likely to result in a significant and large fine that will (and is intended) to have a significant effect on the business.

“All businesses when faced with a potential prosecution, would do well to obtain immediate legal advice and assistance, especially in the context of the Environment Agency and other compliance organisations repeating the mantra that “polluters will pay”.

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