Thames Water Utilities are in trouble over several environmental infringements and now face the prospect of their biggest ever fine after a series of waste spills spewed millions of litres of sewage into local rivers.
Judge Sheridan said: “It was no surprise that comedian David Walliams became ill after his 140-mile charity swim of the Thames.
“The fine is going to be very substantial and the share-holders have got to get the message.
“This may result in the biggest fine that Thames Water have faced, and if they do it again, there will be even bigger fines applied to them.
“If Thames Water says we’re going to pass it on to the customers we’re punishing the people we’re trying to help.
“That is not the point – the point is the shareholders take the hit, not the customers.”
The water company pleaded guilty to a total of 13 offences, including three at a sewage treatment works in Aylesbury dating from January 2013 to November 2013.
Prosecuting counsel Sailesh Mehta raised several failings by management, including missed chances to rectify problems and failure to pass information to senior managers, who in turn failed to act quickly enough.
He said: “They were out of control for a period of time when they should not have been, to the detriment of the environment and locals. One and a half billion litres of untreated sewage were released at the Aylesbury site into the river, roughly equating to 200 Olympic sized swimming pools or two supertankers.”
A list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for staff published internally at Thames Water’s Little Marlow site in Buckinghamshire, read to the court by Mr Mehta said: “Don’t discuss your views on the cause of the problems with any customer, the Environment Agency or the press.
“Don’t give any agreement that Thames Water will provide any information, statement or any interview to the Environment Agency.”
Judge Sheridan branded the list a ‘deplorable document’.
But after hearing of the amount of sanitary towels, condoms and nappies found in incoming sewage to the plant, he also suggested people should not treat toilets as a ‘dump’.
He added: “It’s not all down to Thames Water. There’s a responsibility for everyone to use sewage system properly.”
The court was shown evidence of dead fish, nappies, sanitary products, condoms and raw effluent in watercourses, and heard that a young boy became ill with stomach upsets and diarrhoea after canoeing on the river. One fisherman lost thousands and went out of business because the pollution killed his crayfish, Aylesbury Crown Court heard.
Speaking on behalf of Thames Water, defence counsel Richard Matthews QC passed on the company’s apologies, adding it was working to ensure an incident of its type would not be repeated again.
The hearing, which started on Thursday (February 2), has been adjourned until Monday, February 13.
Sentencing is due to take place on Wednesday, February 22.
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