South West Water (SWW) has been fined over £2 million for a series of environmental offences relating to water pollution and contravening environmental permit conditions.

The water company was fined £2,150,000 yesterday (Wednesday, April 26) at Plymouth Magistrates’ Court where it was sentenced on 13 charges.

The offences occurred over four years across Devon and Cornwall and the Environment Agency highlighted deficiencies in the company’s management systems which contributed to its offences during this period.

The fine of over £2 million is the largest ever fine imposed for environmental offences in the region.   

The company had pleaded guilty to the offences, which occurred at Lostwithiel, Kilmington, Crediton and Torpoint sewage treatment works and the Watergate Bay sewage pumping station, at an earlier court hearing.

The Environment Agency said inaccurate and inadequate operational procedures led to harmful chemicals escaping from SWW sites which resulted in “significant environmental damage” including sites at Kilmington on the River Axe and in Crediton on the River Creedy.

Following the spill at Kilmington, thousands of fish died in the River Axe including some protected species. 

Failure by the company to operate its processes effectively also resulted in raw sewage being pumped into the River Fowey in July 2016 and again in August 2016.

In August 2016, the discharge lasted for more than 35 hours and a sample taken from a stream at the beach showed E.coli levels to be 2,000 times higher than the level that would be classified as poor, the Environment Agency said.

Alan Lovell, chair of the Environment Agency, said: “We welcome this sentence. Serious pollution is a serious crime – and we have been clear that the polluter must pay. 

“The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties.”  

Water minister Rebecca Pow said water companies should not be letting incidents like these happen and warned that those that do will be “punished using the full force of the law”.

“This fine reflects the severity of the pollution that occurred across Devon and Cornwall, causing damage to both wildlife and protected sites.

“It will rightly be paid solely from the company’s operating profits and not passed on to customer bills.”