A fine of £20.3 million has been issued to Thames Water for the leaks of 1.5 billion litres of untreated sewage that occurred between 2013 and 2014.
The fine is the largest given to any water utility for an environmental issue. The Environment Agency, who brought about the prosecution, described it as the biggest freshwater case they had undertaken.
Thames Water admitted to water pollution amongst other offences in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
The untreated sewage polluted the Thames and other tributaries, causing long-term pollution and damage to fish and birds.
Thames Water, the UK’s biggest water provider, has previously been fined £1m in 2016 for repeatedly spilling sewage in Hertfordshire’s Grand Union Canal.
Commenting on the size of the fine, Judge Francis Sheridan, who delivered the fine, said: “One has to get the message across to the shareholders that the environment is to be treasured and protected, and not poisoned.”
A change into sentencing guidelines in 2014 means that fines for large water companies polluting are becoming much heavier in order to deter large companies from repeatedly polluting. The top ten water companies were also the most frequent polluters, committing more than 1,000 incidents between 2006 and 2013, The Guardian reported.
Robert Davis, from the Environment Agency, said: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The river was visibly polluted bank to bank with sewage.
“It was grey, it was lifeless, it had fish floating along it, and was polluted as far as the eye can see both downstream and upstream. It was really sad to see such a beautiful river so badly polluted.”