BREAKING NEWS: Southern Water ‘guilty’ of breaching environmental rules

The Southern Water treatment works in East Worthing
The Southern Water treatment works in East Worthing

A JURY took less than one hour to find Southern Water guilty of breaching environmental rules after the water company expelled 40million litres of raw sewage into the sea from its East Worthing treatment plant.

The six men and six women took just 50 minutes to find the water company guilty of the offence this morning (August 4) following a week-long trial.

They returned a unanimous verdict, concluding the hearing at Chichester Crown Court.

Southern Water had claimed that it had been forced to eject the sewage in September 2012, following what it claimed was an ‘emergency situation’ – the failing of a key sensor which eventually led to the failure of three pumps.

However, the jury was not convinced of this.

Nor were jurors persuaded by the water company’s claims that its actions had been taken to avert any danger to human health.

Southern Water had argued in court that it had pumped the water out of the short sea outfall – a pipe half a mile out to sea – in a desperate bid to overt a crisis, which the company claimed would have flooded Worthing Hospital and residential areas nearby.

The jury determined there was not enough evidence to support this.

The court heard how the major incident resulted in the closure of all beaches between the Lancing and Ferring for a period of six days.

Jurors were told that at 9.30pm on September 1, 2012, Southern Water’s East Worthing sewage treatment works suffered a failure of three pumps at the premises.

This resulted in a huge volume of untreated sewage, around 220 litres per second, being continuously discharged through an emergency short sea outfall about half a mile out to sea.

The treatment site is permitted by the Environment Agency to discharge treated effluent three miles out to sea through its long sea outfall – not from its short sea outfall.

Southern Water notified the Environment Agency of the incident over four hours later and claimed that the three pumps had broken down due to a build up of sewage material such as toilet tissue and sanitary products known as ragging.

The water company was unable to repair the pumps for the next few days and this led to around 40million litres of untreated sewage flowing into the sea throughout this period.

When interviewed by the Environment Agency about the incident Southern Water admitted that inlet screens, which prevent ragging entering the treatment works, were removed from the site at the end of 2011, and only temporary bar screens were installed at the time of the incident.

The sentencing of Southern Water has been adjourned to a later date.

For details about yesterday’s court coverage, click here.

For a report on last week’s evidence, see here.

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