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.


  1. Privatised company that has a monopoly over our water supply. A company that puts share holders first and literally couldn’t give a s’’t about the environment

    • And a district council happily approving more and more houses in the knowledge that infrastructure is not fit for purpose.

      • I doubt if they’re “happy” about it. They haven’t much choice about it- the government has decreed the number. And Thanet is only one area among many in Britain which has had an enormous amount of new housing foisted upon it.

  2. They are just as bad,if not worse,than fly tippers.Those responsible should face a criminal charge.

  3. This is all down to Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives, who care more about big business than the people they were elected to serve. Selling off our publically owned assets at knock-down prices to foreign corporations and then setting up toothless watchdogs to monitor them. £90 million is a drop in the ocean to Southern Water. And yet people still vote for these thieving scum.

    • +1

      Plus she is responsible for the shortage of affordable home by selling of our council houses on the cheap and not replacing them.

      She really screwed this country and yet thanet is a tory stronghold, people need to give they heads a wobble

  4. I’m going to sign up for water aid. I saw an advert on the television for it. I believe it’s a charity, but they said they could supply a family with water for a month for £3 so I am going to try to switch.

  5. Areyousure- you can’t switch away from Southern Water. Wateraid is indeed a charity and asks people to donate £3 a month to support families in obtaining clean, safe drinking water in (mostly) developing countries. It is not a another UK water company. Sadly water is one utility that we can’t switch from like we can with gas and electricity companies. You can thank the Conservatives for selling off our utility companies most of which are no longer UK owned….

  6. These are not merely historical offences, which S.Water will never commit again. There were two discharges which closed beaches for a week just last month. They have no intention of mending their ways, because fines are cheaper than actually changing things. The Directors should be prosecuted for polluting our environment, and Southern Water should be taken back into public ownership as being totally incompetent at what we pay it handsomely to do. Shareholders should receive no compensation, as they were only too happy to take handouts from this failing company

  7. some great comments – i am just annoyed that you beat me too it ! and yes we will be the ones paying that fine

  8. They should have put a ban on southern water putting their prices for 10 years as well , we all know they will the price up to pay the fine

  9. Have to agree with the comments above. Mrs Thatcher told us how wonderful privatising all the silver would be beneficial, water, electricity, gas and so on. The housing issue as well of course with people buying their parents council houses and making a nice killing when selling on. As far as Southern Water is concerned – and yes more recent spillages of course= it will not be the shareholders missing out I am sure. How do I sign up for water aid?

    • I have been donating monthly to Water Aid for years, along with other charities to help developing countries. My thinking has always been if people are sitting in the dirt and the dust without decent water (half the world population are still defecating in the open!) roads, transport, hospitals, doctors, electricity, make you own list, then its no wonder they want to move to developed countries, so don’t moan! This is why its a folly to cut Overseas Aid! Yes, we will pay for this fine, but my guess is senior management at SWA are still getting paid, royally probably! These people should be sacked, its the only way to stop it happening again!

  10. It’s made no difference under the new CEO, they are still lying and being devious over excuses, still dumping tons of untreated waste into the sea during summer months stopping users bathing safely. Just today we heard of a least 100 people complaining of sickness after eating Whitstable oysters and the council closing the firm which is no doubt down to the high concentrates of bacteria from raw sewage recently pumped out there.
    Until Southern Water is taken into either public hands or outlawed from pumping raw waste into the sea our environment and the safety of people swimming in it or eating local seafood are going to continue to be in danger.

  11. Southern water should loose the right to supply the water it should be taken back into public ownership.
    Thatcher what a waster that evil woman was.

    • Bill


      Thatcher was truly a evil woman, she left this country in a complete mess. Sold of every thing the country own. Gas water electric, railway teachers etc etc. She destroyed our community’s by making people think only of themself and sod your neighbour. She destroyed the coal steel, and other heavy industries community’s.

      She hated us northerners

      All that evil woman cared about was London and the bankers. She allowed bankers to screw over millions of people by screwing up our pensions. Meaning millions of work class workers lost 1000’s and could never really afford to retire.
      I think only 1 or 2 bankers went to prison for screwing us over , yet she made sure that miners fighting for their jobs and communities where nicked and framed.Her mates got away with ruining some many peoples lives and planned retirements.

      The police were Thatchers own private army treating football and like animals and covering up Hillsborough.
      Thatcher and the bankers have a lot to answer for.
      Even when the evil woman died the torys used my taxes to bury her even in death she still screwed us my making us pay to put 6 feet under.

      Thank God she couldnt destroy the NHS even though she tried.

  12. I don’t trust the government or southern water. They only tell you what you need to know! Whitstable oysters! Say know more. Not related to sewage spill apparently. 38000 Covid cases a day and carry on as normal. Just because you are allowed it might not be the best choice! Holidays, crowds at Wimbledon, crowds at Wembley. All for the ones that can afford it.

  13. Mr X I Could not agree more with you everything you said is 100% right. It was also Thatcher who wasted billions of pounds turning the NHS into trust and closing down mental hospitals. Thereby forcing mentally ill and often dangerous individuals out of the hospitals ( which for many the hospitals like St Augustines hospital was their home) into the so care in the community. The reason Thatcher made the NHS into trust was to fragment it to make it easier to sell off.
    She had absolutely no understanding of mental illness or the needs of the mentally ill she only knew how to ruin things and the community’s in which people lived. What wad ironic was she died of a mental illness herself in the end.

    • Bill,

      Again +1

      Totally agree with what you say about how she treated the mentally ill.

      Most problems with today’s society can 100% be laid at Thatcher and her cronies.

      People need to remember what Thatcher and the Tories did to our country.

    • So your paying £396.86 to have your waste water pumped into the sea to pollute it Kind human, it makes you proud to be British, and not some third world country doesn’t it?

      • In this present moment I do not feel proud to be part of racist Britain or even proud to be human on a planet we are destroying. I would gladly pay £500 if my waste water was treated instead of dumped instead of untreated. It would be a good idea if some of the profits from these big companies could help third world countries. I would gladly pay for that also.

  14. Since privatisation water bills have risen an amazingly 40 percent above inflation while water companies have paid out a total of £57 billion pounds to their shareholders, while acting in southern water case criminally.

  15. looking back on my notes about Thanet not being able to meet European environmental legislation on waste-water treatment. About 2005.

    Broadstairs can’t treat waste water so have to pump it up to Margate. Margate can’t dump untreated waste water and does not want a extension to the Foreness Point site. Plans that had been accepted by KCC, blocked by TDC by refusing to sell land to Southern Water.

    Obvious answer, dump it on Ramsgate. Hence twin 12 km long by 800mm diameter pipelines, going under Manston runway to Weatherlees. Treated and pumped back to Margate. What can go wrong.

    Anyone remember swimming off Ramsgate West beach and watching out for seagulls feeding off pickings from the sewer outlet (1950’s). Definite pointer to keep to the Pegwell end of beach.

  16. So that works out at just under 2 pence fine for every gallon or .4 of a penny for every litre of raw sewage that they dumped into protected waters. Sorry but £90 million as a fine isn’t any where near high enough.

  17. The stench that comes from the waters along the Thanet beaches is a testimony of southern water’s criminal activities over the years. They should compensate all residents affected with the smell of sewage. Can we even trust the quality of the water we drink? It will get worse now that there are no more EU beach & environmental standards to adhere to. Customers should boycott any price hikes and demand compensation. £90m is nothing to the impact on marine animals dying as a result, people affected with the smell etc. The colour of the water is off putting terrible that people swim in it. Privatisation & neoliberalism and profit is brutal doesn’t care. The trickling down of wealth Thatcher talked about is just not happening to the poor especially in Thanet.Sir Roger Gayle as a Tory MP for 30yrs hasn’t changed Thanet. Yet people continue to vote for the Tories. Sad.

  18. I had rather that they are ordered to use that money to rectify the issue. That way I don’t mind the rate going up as we will all benefit. By the way today the beach is full of sewage again, probably thrown back by a different current. It needs to be cleaned up before families will be back to enjoy the beach please!

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