Anglian Water fined £150k for pollution

A JUDGE has launched a scathing attack on Anglian Water after ordering the company to pay fines and costs of £178,000 for three offences of river pollution from a Suffolk sewage plant.

Jane Hunt

A JUDGE has launched a scathing attack on Anglian Water after ordering the company to pay fines and costs of £178,000 for three offences of river pollution from a Suffolk sewage plant.

Judge John Holt accused the company of “an underlying theme of management failure” and criticised it for not doing enough to prevent pollution after hearing that it had appeared in court every year since 1990 for more than 80 offences.

The judge made his comments after hearing that Anglian Water's Newmarket sewage treatment plant was at the centre of three river pollution incidents in waterways around Newmarket during a nine-month spell in 2006.

Anglian Water pleaded guilty to three charges of releasing waste into controlled waterways and asked for one offence to be considered. It was fined a total of £150,000 and ordered to pay £28,973 costs.

Sentencing the company Judge Holt criticised it for a three-day delay in reporting one of the incidents, in which 1200 fish died, to the Environment Agency.

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He also said there was something wrong with the company's “culture of management” which had resulted in a manager at the plant feeling unable to report one of the pollution incidents and taking steps to cover up what had happened.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that in the first incident on January 17 2006 more than double the permitted amount of ammonia had been released into local waterways over a two week period due to a valve being left partially open at the treatment plant.

Following the breach, Paul Hunter, the manager in charge of the Newmarket sewage plant tried to cover up the release by falsifying documents and telling staff to stay quiet, said Angela Morris for the Environment Agency.

The court heard that Mr Hunter had removed data from a log book and destroyed it. He had then pressurised other employees to collude with him in falsifying data relating to the relevant period.

He was only found out when a colleague blew the whistle on him and tests proved the level of pollution.

Miss Morris said Mr Hunter, who was subsequently sacked, had claimed he thought he had been acting in the best interests of the company.

In the second incident on July 27 a back-up pump was “inadvertently” switched off at the Newmarket plant resulting in untreated sewage flowing into the Newmarket drain for 15 hours and suffocating fish as far away as Fordham and Soham.

Miss Morris said Anglian Water workers had ignored an alarm because they assumed the back-up pump was switched on and this had resulted in a category one pollution incident which she explained was the most serious type of breach.

A 5km stretch of water was affected and an estimated 1200 fish died. During the incident members of the public helped remove dead fish from the water and put up signs warning people to stay out of the water.

On September 4, while the Environment Agency was investigating the first two incidents, the firm had released almost twice the legal limit of ammonia after a piece of metal had sheared off and become caught in a valve preventing part of the treatment process working correctly.

On this occasion another alarm had been ignored and “highly toxic” ammonia had been released into the waterways.

Miss Morris said the offence to be taken into consideration related to illegal quantities of ammonia being released at Newmarket on April 13 this year.

Mark Harris, for Anglian Water, said the firm took the incidents extremely seriously and apologised for the offences.

He said since the incidents the court had heard about, Anglian Water had “firmly grasped” a lot of issues and had taken substantial steps towards improving procedures to control and prevent, where possible, instances of this sort occurring.

Referring to the first incident in January he said Anglian Water had no reason to suspect that Mr Hunter would have behaved in such a “grossly irresponsible and dishonest way”.

He said Anglian Water had reported what it had found out to the Environment Agency and had not attempted to cover up what Mr Hunter had done. Since the incident a new design log book had been introduced.

In relation to the second incident the company had accepted that the alarm system was wrong and had taken steps to address it. On the occasion the court had heard about an employee had switched off a pump to work on it and had failed to turn it back on.

Mr Harris said that between 2007-2010 Anglian Water was spending £5.5 million on up-skilling and retraining managers and technicians.

After the case Anglian Water spokesman Dan Baker said that lessons had been learned from the three incidents and the fine and costs would be paid out of the company's profits and would not be passed on to customers.