Guardian: ‘Water companies have been hit by a series of record fines for major sewage leaks and other pollution incidents. Yorkshire Water was fined £1.1m for illegally discharging sewage that polluted the river Ouse near York, while Thames Water was fined £1m for repeated sewage leaks into the Grand Union canal. The financial penalties have soared after a change in sentencing guidelines, but it is too early to tell if the number of pollution offences by water companies is falling.

The Observer revealed in 2013 that the most persistent and frequent polluters of England’s rivers and beaches were the nation’s 10 biggest water companies. They committed more than 1,000 incidents between 2005-13 but were fined a total of only £3.5m, a sum described as “pitiful” by a senior MP at the time. However, new sentencing guidelines made the penalties more severe in July 2014 and the eight biggest fines alone since then come to a total of over £5m.

“These sorts of significant fines, which all large companies can now face for causing serious environmental damage, should act as a deterrent and help us better protect the environment and the public,” said Anne Brosnan, chief prosecutor at the Environment Agency. “Pollution incidents can impact on local communities, reduce water quality and spoil ecosystems. While water quality has improved dramatically over the last decade there is more to do.”

“The courts have basically added a nought,” said a source close to the issue. “Once it gets to that level, the boards and shareholders of water companies start to take notice.” Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Tougher penalties also increases the risk of reputational damage, which can be another important deterrent.” Click here to read more

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