We’ve changed, Thames says, as it is hit with £20m pollution bill

Thames Water last week could do little but emphasise it had learned its lessons and changed its practices since repeatedly polluting the River Thames between 2012 and 2014 – incidents for which it received a record £20m in fines and costs last week.

In the face of harsh legal and regulatory condemnation, plus widespread mainstream media and social media coverage, the company’s six-month-in chief executive Steve Robertson said: “Since then we’ve reviewed how we do things at all levels and made a number of key changes. These have included increasing the numbers of staff in key operational roles and investing heavily to improve reliability. As a result, our performance has significantly improved.” The court was told that the number of pollution incidents at Thames Water sites has halved since 2013.

The prosecution saw six separate cases brought together in one hearing at Aylesbury Crown Court. It was the biggest freshwater pollution case in the Environment Agency’s 20 year history.

The court heard how “Thames’ repeated illegal discharges of sewage into the River Thames and its tributaries resulted in major environmental damage including visible sewage along 14km of the river, and the death of birds, fish and invertebrates,” the EA reported. It added: “Investigations carried out by Environment Agency officers revealed a catalogue of failures by TWUL management. This involved repeated discharges of untreated or poorly treated raw sewage into rivers, disregarding risks identified by their own staff and failing to react adequately to thousands of high priority alarms used to alert them to the serious problems.”