Southern Water in court for sentencing on 51 sewage pollution charges

Margate pumping station (Image Southern Water)

Southern Water is in court this week for sentencing in relation to the Environment Agency’s prosecution of the company on 51 sewage pollution charges which took place between  2010 and 2015.

The case is said to be the biggest ever brought by the Environment Agency after sewage was released across the south coast from 16 Wastewater treatment works and 1 sewer overflow.

Southern Water entered guilty pleas to all the offences during a previous hearing last year.

Prosecution was brought under the Water Resources Act and the Environmental Permitting Regulations after the company discharged huge volumes of raw sewage into the water because it was cheaper than treating it, the hearing at Canterbury Crown Court was told.

Southern Water has pleaded guilty to all counts of knowingly permitting entry to coastal waters of poisonous, noxious or polluting matter and/or waste matter and/or sewage effluent – untreated sewage – otherwise than as authorised by an environmental permit.

The Environment Agency is currently investigating the release of sewage from Southern Water’s Foreness pumping station on 16/17 June and 27 June this year. The first release resulted in advice against bathing at 11 Thanet beaches which was in force for seven days.

A Southern Water statement says: “The new management team, appointed in 2017, investigated and recognised these events and consequently in March 2020 Southern Water pleaded guilty to all charges.

“The charges relate to unpermitted discharges from 17 of our sites on the North Kent and Solent coasts. This hearing is for the Judge to decide on the level of fine the company will pay as a sentence.”

The hearing started today (July 6)  and is expected to finish on Friday (July 9).

In 2019 Southern Water agreed to pay £126million in penalties and rebate payments to customers following serious failures in the operation of its sewage treatment sites and for deliberately misreporting its performance during 2010-2017.

In the course of a large-scale investigation into the water company, Ofwat found that Southern Water failed to operate a number of wastewater treatments works properly, including not making the necessary investment which led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater into the environment.

Ofwat also found that Southern Water staff manipulated the wastewater sampling process which resulted in misreporting information about the performance of a number of sewage treatment sites. This meant the company avoided penalties under Ofwat’s incentive regime.

The £126m package meant Southern Water paid a rebate of £123m to customers through their bills and  a fine of £3m.

The rebate included £91m in penalties Southern Water had avoided and a further £32m of payments as recognition of their serious failures.

Following the incident Southern Water appointed a new Chief Executive and made substantial changes to the company’s management team. The company introduced and committed to new governance arrangements to support accurate monitoring and reporting, and a programme to change the company’s culture. Investment was made into the failing treatment sites with £100m invested in IT systems and processes and £26m invested in wastewater assets.


  1. The evidence in this case demonstrates the failure of private enterprise to run an infrastructure: SW ” discharged huge volumes of raw sewage into the water because it was cheaper than treating it,” showing that the prime purpose of Souther Water plc is to make profits for their shareholders, not to produce water or clean up sewage. This is a record-breaking case and must result in them being taken into public ownership in some form. We need clean water and clean beaches.

    • You are absolutely bang on, Brightisle! When I worked as a Central Electricity Generating Board engineer (CEGB), we had a culture of “public service”, which meant we often worked over, and beyond our Job Specification! SWA have polluted our sea, and coastline to make money for their shareholders as you say, but not only that they put the public at risk! Re-nationalise them now, so they work for the public good, instead of their shareholders!

  2. The company that boasts of how green it is & how it only releases sewage when it has to-the reality is they also do it to maximise profits for the bosses & shareholders & they don’t care about the environment, or the health of the public. You can guarantee nobody will go to jail over this & the costs will just be covered by price increases & job cuts. If a member of the public dropped a fraction of the crap they do into the sea then they would go to prison.

  3. Southern Water should be stripped of the licence. They are not fit to be running such a business. They have publicly lied and deliberately falsified records to save paying penalties. Their record since the new CEO came in and changed things around is just as bad as effluent is still being pumped out polluting rivers and the sea on a regular basis. Lies are still being told publicly in the media by the company.
    Until this behaviour is outlawed they will just continue as they do. It should not take decades to get a grip on this. It is time to say “this is unacceptable” and “no more” and put a stop on it once and for all.

  4. Kent resident sounds like you have described TDC, totally agree with your comment far to long these firms ( council) have gotten away with very bad behaviour

  5. Yet more evidence to support the notion that major infrastructures should be in public ownership.
    Private Enterprise’s first charge is to make money for its investors and shareholders. If it provides a public service too that’s a bonus.

    • This is the public ownership that didn’t want to invest in upgrading our water system and sold it off instead.? Public bodies are notoriously inefficient and adept at avoiding responsibility ( grenfell , nhs, councils all prime examples). Personally I wouldn’t expect a state run service to be any better but would expect it to cost far more.

      • I dispute that LC! Many publicly owned industries were badly underfunded by governments of all colours! They were often made money but instead of reinvesting it, it was switched and used for other projects, mostly for political reasons! British Rail was a prime example severely underfunded on purpose, so it could be sold off for a song, and look at ir now, bankrupt, or going bankrupt!

  6. I’m not clear where Southern Water’s income comes from apart from the bills that householders and businesses pay.

    If that is the case then a fine is effectively being paid from either money they have already collected from the public or businesses or money they are going to collect in the future.

    My point is that, by fining them, it’s the public who are actually paying for it. So we put up with the sewage releases which impact our daily lives and then also pay the fines as a result.

  7. Maybe if the laws were changed that any. CEO would be sent to prison for this sort of crime. They might change there attitudes. As said a big fine is of no use as its there customers who will be paying the bill.

  8. Expect our water bills to raise in the next year, somebody has to pay and it won’t be the shareholders.
    The directors should lose their jobs and the company brought back into public ownership.

  9. It also exposes the inefficiency of the Environment Agency in bringing prosecution when they should. They knew about the pollution for years. What hope does the general public have in monitoring the EA and getting them to do what they are for.

  10. Southern Water are not fit for purpose and should be stripped of their licence. So all this time that we have been paying our waste water bills we could have just thrown buckets of poo in the sea (how medieval). I now also have doubts about the cleanliness and quality of the drinking water as they obviously can’t be trusted. Marine life will be affected by this for years to come and Southern Water should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

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