Southern Water has been fined £90 million for pollution offences, during which unpermitted sewage was discharged into rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex.

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The facts of the case

The largest criminal investigation in the Environment Agency’s 25year history has recently concluded after Southern Water pleaded guilty to 51 pollution offences. It was discovered that 16 waste waterworks and one storm overflow were discharging sewage into rivers and coastal waters. This included protected areas, conservation sites and oyster beds.

Southern Water should have been treating the wastewater but allowed 6,971 illegal discharges lasting 61,704 hours the equivalent of 2,571 days. The offences were held to be caused by deliberate failings. It was also found that the company presented a misleading picture of compliance, hindering proper regulation.

The discharges were made into highly sensitive protected areas and had an impact on businesses and community groups. The discharges into shellfish waters caused a longterm deterioration in the flesh quality. Shellfish producers lost business as some areas were left unsuitable for harvesting shellfish for human consumption.

£90 million fine

Southern Water has been ordered to pay a £90 million fine. This must come from its operating profits, ensuring that customers do not bear the cost.

When sentencing the company, the judge noted a “shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment, for the precious and delicate ecosystems along the North Kent and Solent coastlines, for human health, and for the fisheries and legitimate businesses that depend on the vitality of the coastal waters”.

In 2019, Southern Water was fined £126 million by Ofwat, the Water Services Regulation Authority, for the same regulatory failings.

Environment Agency prosecutions

Some people may find it surprising that the Environment Agency (EA) can bring a prosecution. However, the EA’s power to prosecute is set out in law. It can pursue proceedings against an individual or a business that has committed a crime against the legislation the EA is responsible for enforcing.

If you or your business is facing an Environment Agency prosecution, you need to speak to a criminal defence solicitor without delay.

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