Southern Water fined £90m for dumping raw sewage in the sea

Margate pumping station (Image Southern Water)

Southern Water has been fined a record £90million for illegally dumping raw sewage into the sea.

During a sentencing hearing at Canterbury Crown Court, it was heard the water company pumped an estimated 16bn to 21bn litres of untreated sewage into protected waters around the south coast.

Southern Water was up 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 one sewer overflow.

Southern Water entered guilty pleas to all the offences during a previous hearing, admitting 6,971 illegal spills from sites in Hampshire, Kent and West Sussex over five years.

His Honour Mr Justice Johnson said the water company “showed a shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment” as well as human health, fisheries and other coastal businesses.

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.

Speaking after sentencing, chief executive Ian McAulay says he is deeply sorry for the historic incidents which have led to the sentencing and fine.

He said: “I am deeply sorry for the historic incidents which have led to today’s sentencing and fine. I know that the people who rely on us to be custodians of the precious environment in southern England must be able to trust us. What happened historically was completely unacceptable and Southern Water pleaded guilty to the charges in recognition of that fact.

“We have heard what the judge has said and will reflect closely on the sentence and his remarks. He has rightly put the environment front and centre which is what matters to all of us.

“These events happened between 2010 and 2015. I joined Southern Water in 2017 and am passionately committed to the environment. We have changed the way we operate. My expectation is that Southern Water is fully transparent and operates in the right way. We continue to transform across the areas of risk and compliance, measurement and self-reporting. We have made much progress and are continuing to invest to protect the environment and deliver our services safely and at a fair price for our customers.

“Today’s fine will not impact customers’ bills and investment in our transformation will not be reduced. Our shareholders are bearing the cost of the fine.”

In a separate case, the EA 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.

And in another case, 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.