Water company fined after raw sewage killed 5,000 fish

Thousands of fish were killed (Environment Agency)
Thousands of fish were killed (Environment Agency)

A water company has been fined more than £500,000 after it failed to stop raw sewage being discharged into a river for nearly 24 hours, killing 5,000 fish.

Around six million litres of raw sewage – the equivalent of more than two Olympic swimming pools - was discharged into the River Great Ouse at Brackley, Northamptonshire, because of a malfunction of Anglian Water systems.

Electrical faults caused pumps to stop just before 6pm on 24 May 2017, causing the discharge from an emergency overflow at a pumping station.

But a failure of the early warning alarm system, which should have alerted staff to a problem, meant it went unnoticed.

The discharge was not stopped until around 5pm the next day - 23 hours later.

 (Environment Agency)
(Environment Agency)

Fish including brown trout, chub and pike were killed, as well as smaller species such as bullhead, dace, stone loach, minnow, gudgeon and 79 brook lampreys. Dead signal crayfish were also spotted.

A dog walker saw up to 30 dying fish being carried by the river flow, gasping for breath belly-up or tail-up.

She also reported seeing a large trout following the riverbank, jumping out of the water and rubbing itself along the bank.

The pollution was found to have stretched nearly 7.5 miles down river.

Anglian Water admitted a breach of permit and was ordered to pay a fine of £510,000, costs of £50,000 and a victim surcharge of £170 at Peterborough magistrates’ court.

Investigating Environment Agency officers reported finding the bed of a watercourse that flows into the river was completely covered in sewage debris, including panty liners and tampons.

Brackley terminal pumping station pumps sewage from the town of Brackley to be treated at sewage works nearly a mile away.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “We welcome this sentence. Serious pollution is a serious crime.

“The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature, and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties for those which do not.”

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “We work tirelessly to protect and enhance the environment, and find it deeply distressing when incidents like this occur.

“We know there’s no room for complacency, and we’re absolutely determined to improve further and progress towards achieving our zero pollutions goal.”