Anglian Water has been fined £2.65 million, the largest ever fine for environmental offences in East England, after admitting millions of litres of sewage was released into the North Sea.
Representatives from the water company pleaded guilty to two counts of unauthorised releases and breaches of environmental permits.
The company pleaded guilty to one offence of illegal discharge, contravening environmental permit conditions, and a second count of breaching environmental permit conditions for storm discharge permissions.
Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard that the prosecution followed an Environment Agency investigation in 2018 that explored discharges at Jaywick Water Recycling Centre on Essex’s coast which led to sewage being discharged into the sea.
The spills between June and July which occurred during that year were said to reach 7,500,000 litres, the equivalent of filling three 50 metre swimming pools.
The blockage was cleared by Anglian Water in August 2018.
It was reported that the company decommissioned a piece of equipment at the Jaywick site which led to the release of the untreated sewage into the water.
The Jaywick site does have an Environment Agency permit, which only allows discharges into the sea during storm conditions.
The court heard that Anglian Water could have prevented the issues from escalating if they had responded to available data or operated a satisfactory alarm system.
Anglian Water has been ordered to pay £16,520 in costs and a £170 surcharge.
District Judge Timothy King told company representatives that the fine was so big because of how “frequently” Anglian Water finds itself in court and said “more could and should have been done” to prevent this pollution.
He said: “There is a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately.”
Jeremy Hay, senior environment officer at the Environment Agency, said the sentence sends a message that “we will not hesitate to prosecute companies which endanger communities and disregard the environment and the law.”
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said the result “follows on the heels” of South West Water’s prosecution where the water company was landed a £2.1 million fine.
She said: “I am clear that water companies must not profit from environmental damage. In both cases, the fines will rightly be paid solely from the company’s operating profits and not passed on to customer bills.”
An Anglian Water spokeswoman apologised “wholeheartedly” and said “there is no place for spills”.
She told the BBC: “On this occasion, the judge found that there was no harmful impact on the environment, so we are disappointed and confused about the level of the fine and the way it was derived.
"There is no place for spills but fines should be proportional to the environmental impact.”