Water companies are the most persistent polluters of England's rivers and beaches, with “pitiful” fines failing to curb their behaviour, it has been revealed.
An investigation carried out by The Observer newspaper has discovered that the utilities firms have been sanctioned for over 1,000 incidents of pollution in the past nine years, but only fined a total of £3.5m.
Such frequent offending has raised concerns that financial penalties levelled by officials are too low.The Sentencing Council for England and Wales agrees and is proposing large increases in penalties.
The companies that received the biggest fines were Thames Water, United Utilities Water and Anglia Water respectively.
The rate of such incidents of pollution, including the pouring of sewage into a harbour for more than a year and senior managers destroying the evidence, is not going down, according to figures obtained from the Environment Agency by the paper using freedom of information legislation.
Two thirds of the 1,000 incidents recorded resulted only in cautions, while the rest of the offences resulted in a fine averaging only £10,800.
Speaking to the paper, Joan Walley MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said, “The sentencing council must ensure that courts take into account the profits made from environmental crimes, and that fines have a sufficient deterrent effect.”
A spokesman for Water UK, a group which represents the water utilities industry, said: “We never want to see incidents of pollution. Water companies invest billions of pounds each year to safeguard the natural environment while providing people with high-quality water to drink and healthy rivers, beaches and bathing waters to enjoy. While it's widely accepted that there is still room for improvement, there is clear evidence of progress in many areas.”