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The record £20m fine for Thames Water’s multiple pollution of the River Thames and its tributaries with over 1.4 billion tonnes of untreated sewage shows how badly the company was managed.
It makes the incident where the company polluted the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal seem small fry compared to the damage the company caused to humans, livestock. wildife and fish across Hertfordshire,Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
Thames Water admitted 13 breaches of environmental laws over discharges from sewage treatment works in Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow, and a pumping station at Littlemore.
It also pleaded guilty to a further charge on March 17 over a lesser discharge from an unmanned sewage treatment plant at Arborfield in Berkshire in September 2013.
The court at Aylesbury also took into account seven further incidents at sewage sites on the Thames in 2014.
What was extraordinary was the lax attitude of top managers who ignored warnings from staff about failures in the system
No wonder the judge Francis Sheridan said: “This is a shocking and disgraceful state of affairs. It should not be cheaper to offend than take appropriate action.”
He added: “What a dreadful state of affairs that is.
“Logbook entries reflected the pathetic state of affairs and the frustration of employees.
“Thames Water utilities continually failed to report to the Environment Agency despite (managers) being fully aware of the issues and reporting governance.”
He later said of the firm: “There is a history of non-compliance.”
Anne Brosnan, the Environment Agency’s chief prosecutor, said in The Guardian: “Thames Water was completely negligent to the environmental dangers created by the parlous state of its works. Our investigation revealed that we were dealing with a pattern of unprecedented pollution incidents which could have been avoided if Thames Water had been open and frank with the EA as required.”
But should we be surprised? Thames Water is a remote multinational making huge profits – and a £20m fine – large as it is – will still hardly dent a £742m annual profit.It is also only a quarter of the annual dividend paid to investors.
And it’s owners include Kuwaitis, the Chinese, Canadians and other international foreign investors . What will they care if fish die in Oxfordshire and humans running sailing clubs become ill.
They are now claiming it is better managed and promising tigher controls. But they won’t want to sacrifice the bottom line and have a captive audience who can’t live without water or disposing their waste.
If ever there is a case for the return of public ownership Thames Water have made it today. They have proved themselves unfit to protect the environment.