South West Water fined record amount of over £2.1m for ‘unacceptable’ sewage pollution offences

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The Environment Agency said it was a record fine for environmental offences in the region and “polluters must pay”

South West Water has been fined more than £2.1 million after admitting causing “unacceptable” pollution in Devon and Cornwall.

The Environment Agency (EA) said it was a record fine for environmental offences in the region.

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The water company pleaded guilty at Plymouth Magistrates Court to 13 counts of unauthorised releases and breaches of environmental permits.

The charges relate to seven incidents dating back to 2016 at South West Water (SWW) facilities in the two counties.

District Judge Jo Matson told the court the offences added to the company’s "unenviable list" of offences dating back to 2014.

SWW was fined £2,150,000 and ordered to pay £280,170 in costs after admitting to six offences of illegal discharge activities and seven offences of contravening environmental permit conditions.

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The charges relate to incidents at sewage treatment works and pumping stations at Crediton and Kilmington in Devon and Lostwithiel, Torpoint and Watergate Bay in Cornwall.

South West Water has been fined a record £2.1m for sewage pollution offences. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) South West Water has been fined a record £2.1m for sewage pollution offences. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock)
South West Water has been fined a record £2.1m for sewage pollution offences. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) | NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock

‘Pollution incidents will no longer be tolerated by the court’

The EA said a spill at Kilmington led to the deaths of thousands of fish, including some protected species, in the River Axe.

It said raw sewage was also pumped into the River Fowey for more than 12 hours despite control room alarms indicating there was a problem.

It said another illegal discharge from the Watergate Bay sewage pumping station lasted more than 35 hours, with a sample taken from a stream at the beach showing E. coli levels to be 2,000 times higher than a poor rating.

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The EA added that on two occasions effluent from the Torpoint sewage treatment works was pumped into the St John’s Lake Site of Special Scientific Interest, which lies within Plymouth Sound and is designated due to its variety of bird life and invertebrates.

District Judge Jo Matson said: “Pollution incidents will no longer be tolerated by the court”.

Clarissa Newell, from the EA, said SWW failures led to "serious pollution incidents in some of the most scenic locations in Devon and Cornwall" and “polluters must pay”.

She added: "Having alarms to alert you that sewage is spilling is no good if no action is taken. Like all water companies, South West Water has a responsibility to operate in accordance with permit conditions and to prevent pollution.

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"Polluters must pay and the Environment Agency will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that they do."

In a statement after the hearing, Susan Davy, chief executive of the Pennon Group, SWW’s parent company, said the pollution was "unacceptable".

She said: "Any pollution incident is one too many. These seven isolated incidents that took place between 2016 and 2020 were unacceptable and it’s right that we have been held to account by the EA.

"I also want to be clear that this didn’t happen because we don’t care, we do. Everyone who works for South West Water is extremely passionate about our environment and we need to do more to prove this to our customers and visitors to our region."

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This month more than 40 beaches in South West England were issued with a sewage warning after stormy weather led to sewer overflows.

Anti-sewage charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) posted the warning on its website urging people to not enter the water at the affected spots.

Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) told NationalWorld that sewage discharges should only be happening in “exceptional circumstances” but they are becoming “more commonplace” because “government policy keeps illegal pollution profitable”.

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