SOUTHERN Water has been hit with a hefty £500,000 fine after raw sewage was dumped into Swalecliffe Brook, polluting a 1.2km stretch of the watercourse and killing 249 fish. The company admitted failing to respond to emergency alarms which meant the effluent was pouring into the brook for 18 hours, Canterbury Crown Court was told on Wednesday, November 12.
The alarm was raised when a passerby smelt the sewerage and saw dead sticklebacks in the water on July 21 last year. A major clean-up was initiated but it was too late for the brown trout, sticklebacks and eels that had made the stream their own. Richard Banwell QC prosecuting said eels were jumping out of the water in abid to escape. Hitting Southern Water with the £500,000 fine, Judge Adele Wilhams said there was a failure in managemengt. Emergency alarms had been triggered at the Brook Road pumping centre twice in the previous week but the firm is accused of not acting quickly enough to them. She added confidence had been lost in the quality of local beaches and shellfish because the spill had affected nearby whelk and oyster beds.
It was the start of the school holidays and oysters were due to be harvested for the Whitstable Oyster Festival the following week, but because of the ban on shellfish after the leak, supplies had to be brought in from outside of town. The company blamed human error for the discharge and said the employee responsible had been retrained, not sacked. The firm is spending £1.6 million on the pumping station to ensure nothing of this kind happens again. Of that, £700,000 has been spent with another £900,000 earmarked. Matthew Wright, Southern Water chief executive officer, said the company is considering an appeal against the size of the fine. He said
“I don’t accept the criticism of the company’s management and we take every single incident very seriously indeed but we can never rule out another incident happening.”
Senior environment agency official Alan Cansdale said:
“Southern Water has acknowledged they had sufficient warning and knowledge to minimise the Impact on the local environment but failed to act swiftly. This incident and the scale of the subsequent impact was the result of inadequate urgency to realise there was a problem on the site.”
Herne Bay Gazette, November 19th 2014