Fine after sewage poured into homes and gardens

A water company has been fined hundreds of thousands of pounds after it allowed sewage to pour into homes and gardens following an eight year court battle.

Thames Water has been told to pay £345,000 after the spill, which saw thousands of litres of raw sewage pour into gardens, allotments, homes and streams over ten weeks.

A court battle between the Environment Agency and Thames Water went as far as the European Court as both parties argued over blame.


2003, Feb – April: Offences happened.

2004, September 16 – Before the Magistrates Court which ruled it did not have jurisdiction to decide a preliminary
point of law.

2005, May 18 – The High Court ruled the Magistrates’ Court did
have the power to rule. However, due to a
legal issue about whether escaped sewage was ‘directive waste’ or ‘controlled waste’, the case was referred to the European Court of

2007, May 10 – The European Court of Justice referred the ruling back to the UK.

2008, July 28 – The High Court
ruled  there was no other system of rules or laws achieving the
level of protection of the environment required by the WFD except the
general waste legislation and therefore escaped sewage is ‘controlled
waste’ for the purposes of s. 33 EPA 1990.

2010. January, May, June, September and November: the trial –
evidence and closing submissions relating to the eleven charges under s
33 EPA 1990, waste offences.

2011, March 7/8, – Delivery of reasons for judgement and sentencing.

Thames Water argued, eventually unsuccessfully, through several courts that certain laws relating to the escaped sewage did not apply to them.

Thames Water pleaded guilty to four offences at an earlier hearing in 2009, but disputed 11 charges of depositing waste in the gardens, garages and the allotments of local residents, under one house, and in the street.

However, Bromley Magistrates’ Court ruled earlier this month, that Thames Water was guilty of the further charges.

The court heard back in 2003 a couple living in Bromley, south east London, saw sewage gushing from a manhole cover near their back door.

Contractors for Thames Water thought it was a blocked sewer, but by the following day sewage was still gushing out and their, and several of their neighbour’s, gardens were completely covered.

The sewage stopped on that second day, but then continued intermittently over the next two months until April 22 when the last major escape of sewage took place.

Prosecutor Angus Innes said: “We persisted with our prosecution, despite a strong legal challenge, because we believe it is unacceptable not to move legal mountains to protect householders from the effects of the flooding of their property with sewage and waste water.

“Pollution of rivers and streams is relatively easy to prosecute as the offences are subject to strict liability, without proving negligence or intent.

“But to prosecute the eleven waste deposit offences we had to first overcome Thames Water’s argument in superior courts to rule that the waste laws do not apply to them.

“Once the European Court had agreed these laws did apply, we were able to prove in the magistrates’ court that Thames Water did not act with due diligence in addressing the problems flowing from the collapsed sewer.”

Luke Walsh

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