Water firm fined £240,000 over County Durham sewage discharges


Show caption File photo of a manhole cover. The judge said the one in this case had been subject to ‘long-term deterioration’. Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images Pollution Water firm fined £240,000 over County Durham sewage discharges Northumbrian Water admitted two breaches of law after manhole collapse led to sewer blockage PA Media Wed 19 Jan 2022 17.50 GMT Share on Facebook

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A water company has been fined £240,000 after a damaged manhole led to two unauthorised sewage discharges into a stream.

Untreated sewage leaked into Coundon Burn in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, on 13 March 2017. A member of the public rang Northumbrian Water after seeing effluent in the stream, and the firm – which had a turnover of £834.6m that year – sent workers to free a sewer blockage.

But it is likely they only succeeded in forcing it further down the pipe, and there was a further overflow about 320 metres downstream the next day. Workers only managed to remove the blockage after they used equipment to break into the Victorian pipework, finding that a brick entangled in sewage “rags” had caused the buildup, Newcastle crown court heard.

Analysis found that the stream was polluted, and discoloured water was found to be coming from the stream and flowing into the River Gaunless. Thick sewage fungus was found coating the stream for 300 metres and was visible in it for another 300 metres, the prosecution said.

Subsequent checks found that a manhole had been damaged farther upstream from the blockages, possibly due to farm machinery, the court heard, and bricks had fallen into the sewer.

Judge Robert Adams, during a lengthy sentencing exercise, fined the firm £240,000 and ordered it to pay the Environment Agency’s costs, which were more than £34,000.

He said Northumbrian Water had taken steps to improve its performance since then and was “clearly not the worst offender of all the water companies”.

The judge said in his opinion the manhole that partially collapsed into the sewer had been subject to “long-term deterioration”.

Northumbrian Water admitted two breaches of environmental legislation, namely that it caused an unauthorised water discharge activity, at a hearing in October.

Northumbrian Water serves 1.3m properties and 2.7 million people in the north-east of England. It has 1m manholes on its system, 6,000 of which are on agricultural land, the court was told.