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Calls For Water Company Bosses To Face Prison Over Sewage Pollution

Serious water pollution incidents have increased in recent years

3 min read

A scathing report from the Environmental Agency has called for tougher action against water companies responsible for pollution – including prison sentences.

The new report calls for chief executives to be jailed if their companies are responsible for serious pollution as they warned that the current fines regime was not tough enough.

On Thursday, the EA, the arms-length government body that monitors environmental issues, said performance on pollution had fallen to the worst seen in years, with 62 serious incidents of pollution recorded in 2021 – a record they described as "appalling".

Four companies, including Thames Water, Anglian Water and Wessex and Yorkshire Water, were all rated two stars, meaning they have been deemed in need of significant improvement, while two, South West Water and Southern Water were given the lowest possible rating.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said they planned to make it "too painful" for offending firms to continue as they called for higher fines, jail sentences and the threat of directors being struck off if they are responsible for serious environmental damage.

"Water quality won’t improve until water companies get a grip on their operational performance. For years people have seen executives and investors handsomely rewarded while the environment pays the price," she said.

"Company directors let this happen. We plan to make it too painful for them to continue like this."

She added: "The amount a company can be fined for environmental crimes is unlimited but fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a Chief Executive’s salary.

"We need courts to impose much higher fines. Investors should no longer see England's water monopolies as a one-way bet."

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Philip Dunne, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, said the stats were "shocking but not surprising".

"Even as public outrage at these disgusting practices grew last year, the number of incidents was increasing. The scale of these incidents is simply unacceptable."

He added: "The EA's calls for heftier fines and prison sentences ought to concentrate minds within water company boardrooms, and it is encouraging to see firmer action from the EA in enforcing permit breaches.

"We cannot carry on with the amount of unpermitted sewage discharges being overseen by water companies: our environment and ecosystems are being severely damaged and the Chief Medical Officer has warned that it is a serious public health issue."

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "This report shows that water companies are ignoring their legal responsibilities.

"Water company chiefs cannot continue to make huge profits whilst polluting our waters.

They added: "We will not tolerate this behaviour and we will take robust action if we don't see urgent improvements."

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