Panorama United Utilities: Calls for Environment Agency board 'to resign' after BBC finds it 'covered up' sewage discharges

Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents
Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents. (Photo: Getty Images)Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents. (Photo: Getty Images)
Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sewage campaigners are calling for the Environment Agency (EA) board “to resign” after a BBC investigation found that it downgraded pollution incidents by United Utilities without actually attending the sites. From 2020 through to the end of 2022, there were 931 reported water company pollution incidents in north-west England, and the investigation found that the EA only attended six.

Mark Barrow, an underwater filmmaker at Beneath British Waters, who films the extent of sewage in UK rivers, posted on X, formerly Twitter: “It is high time the EA board resigned and replaced with people who are willing to make a difference and not lick arse. Feel for the staff on the ground that want to make a difference but can not.”

Feargal Sharkey, former Undertones singer and now a fierce sewage campaigner, also posted on the social media platform that the EA board “should resign today”. He added: “@unitedutilities know perfectly well what the rules are, they know what the law says yet they’re blatantly, deliberately and wilfully happy to break it and the @EnvAgency are only too happy to cooperate and collaborate.”

Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents. (Photo: Getty Images)Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents. (Photo: Getty Images)
Campaigners demand the Environment Agency board "to resign" after the BBC found it allowed United Utilities to downgrade over 60 sewage pollution incidents. (Photo: Getty Images)

Users also took to X to share their anger at both the EA and United Utilities following the BBC investigation - which had unveiled that the water company had wrongly degraded more than 60 sewage pollution incidents to the lowest level, category 4, and all were signed off by the EA. Ashley Smith wrote on X: “The clearly corrupted Environment Agency is being allowed to 'investigate' the water industry again when it clearly needs to be investigated itself before the public and Parliament can have confidence in it. End the cover ups.” Another user added: “In any half decent country there would be resignations and police investigations on why this was allowed to happen without any repercussions.”

United Utilities denied misreporting pollution. The EA declined to be interviewed for BBC’s Panorama programme on its investigation but said it takes its “responsibility to protect the environment very seriously”. It added that the agency responds to “every incident and always attends those where there is a significant risk."

A United Utilities spokesperson said: “Panorama has made a series of allegations about United Utilities, which we strongly reject. Pollution incidents are investigated and action taken where necessary. The Environment Agency, as the regulator, determines both the initial and final categorisation of pollution incidents. We care passionately about the environment and the communities we serve and have just proposed an ambitious £13.7 billion investment plan – the biggest for over 100 years – to improve services for customers, communities and the environment here in the North West.” 

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