Thames Water Fined '2.3m For Environmental Offence

Published date05 March 2021
Subject MatterEnvironment, Energy and Natural Resources, Environmental Law, Clean Air / Pollution, Water
Law FirmBCL Solicitors LLP
AuthorMr Richard Reichman

Thames Water was fined '2.3 million at Aylesbury Crown Court on 26 February 2021, following a guilty plea in relation to a pollution incident in Henley-on-Thames. The company was also ordered to pay the Environment Agency's significant costs of nearly '90,000.

The incident occurred in April 2016 when sewage with high levels of ammonia was released into Fawley Court Ditch at Henley-on-Thames, killing over 1,000 fish and other water life.

The company pleaded guilty to one offence of causing a discharge of partially treated effluent without an environmental permit, under regulation 12(1)(b) of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010.

The Environment Agency alleged that there was poor management at Thames Water's Henley-on-Thames plant with no adequate monitoring in place to manage the risk of pollution, made worse by staff not responding to alarms highlighting faults in the process. The incident was described as 'entirely foreseeable'.

Judge Francis Sheridan stated that Thames Water should have reacted to the warnings 'long before' they did. He added that the pollution and the events leading up to it showed 'high negligence' by the company.

Fines for environmental offences are determined by following the Sentencing Council's, 'Environmental Offences - Definitive Guideline'. An assessment of culpability and harm leads to an offence category which informs the starting point and range of the fine under the guideline.

It appears that of the four levels of culpability (in decreasing order of severity: Deliberate, Reckless, Negligent and Low or No Culpability), the company in this case was found to have been 'Negligent', i.e. there was a failure by the organisation as a whole to take reasonable care to put in place and enforce proper systems for avoiding commission of the offence.

In relation to harm, the Environment Agency commented following the fine that there was 'significant harm on water quality'. This suggests that of the four categories of harm (in decreasing order of severity: Category 1, Category 2, Category 3 and Category 4 harm), the relevant category was Category 2, i.e. a significant adverse effect or damage to air or water quality, amenity...

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