Last week the biggest and one of the longest environmental prosecution in UK history was brought to a conclusion with a fine of £90 million for Southern Water for persistent and deliberate discharges from 17 water treatment works in the Thames estuary and along the Southern coast to Christchurch during the period 2010 – 2015. This follows on from a fine of £126 million levied by Ofwat 2 years ago for similar offences.
The details of the case and, in particular, the judges’ comments at sentencing are an damning indictment of the companies historic approach to business management and their motivation to priorities profit of the environment. The case doesn’t do the interests of the UK water industry as a whole any favours and, although successfully prosecuted by the Environment Agency, it does beg questions about a rouge company’s ability to blatantly break the rules and get away with it for so long, even if it was eventually challenged and prosecuted.
At £90 million the fine is high and aims to serve as a warning to all. However, set against the annual profits , typically plus £200 m pa, £622m between 2013 -2017 some of it artificially inflated by rule breaking, it is hard not to still ask the question: who says crime doesn’t pay? The company has been prosecuted and fined, but as yet those who set the policies and those who directly or indirectly reaped the financial rewards for doing so have not.
The case deserves to have much greater publicity than it perhaps has so far had. It is to be hoped that more businesses unnecessarily effected by Southern Water’s criminally negligent activities during the 6 year period covered by the case will now choose to peruse Southern Water for damages. It is also to be hoped that Southern Water spend a far greater percentage of any future profit on rectifying issue and making recompense for their passed failings.
There are several recent articles on the subject, two of the more informative are: