Water company fined £2.7m after sewage spilled into North Sea

Jaywick in Essex, where the spill happened into the North Sea  (Google Maps)
Jaywick in Essex, where the spill happened into the North Sea (Google Maps)

Anglian Water has been fined £2.65 million after admitting millions of litres of sewage was released into the North Sea on their watch.

Representatives from the water company pleaded guilty to two counts of unauthorised releases and breaches of environmental permits.

Jeremy Hay, senior environment officer at the Environment Agency, said: “[This sentence] sends out the message that we will not hesitate to prosecute companies which endanger communities and disregard the environment and the law.”

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. The spills between June and July of that year were said to reach 7,500,000 litres - the equivalent of filling three 50m swimming pools

The blockage was cleared by Anglian Water in August 2018.

The company has apologised. 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 previously had to stump up £1.2million over pollution in October last year.

District Judge Timothy King told company representatives that the fine was so big because of how “frequently” Anglian Water finds itself in court.

“[There is a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately,” he said.

Water Minister Rebecca Pow said: “I am clear that water companies must not profit from environmental damage.

“This latest result follows on the heels of a £2.1m fine handed to South West Water. 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” but 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.”

The charge sheet, all of which the company pleaded guilty to, comprised: One offence of illegal discharge, contravening environmental permit conditions, and a second count of breaching environmental permit conditions for storm discharge permissions.

Anglian Water has also been ordered to pay £16,520 in costs and a £170 surcharge. In total, it represents the largest ever fine for environmental offences in East England.