Thames Water has been fined a record £20.3 million for polluting the River Thames with 1.4 billion litres of raw sewage.
The fine, which amounts to about two weeks’ profits for the privatised utility, is 10 times the previous largest fine for a water company for an environmental disaster.
Judge Francis Sheridan criticised the utility for presiding over a “shocking and disgraceful state of affairs”.
He condemned the firm’s “history of non-compliance”, saying: “It should not be cheaper to offend than to take appropriate precautions.”
Judge Sheridan added: “Thames Water continually failed to report to the Environment Agency despite (managers) being fully aware of the issues and reporting governance.”
Richard Aylard, Thames Water‘s external affairs and sustainability director, said: “We have failed in our responsibility to the environment and that hurts both personally and professionally because we do care.”
Aylard added: “This fine will be paid in full by shareholders only.”
Consumer groups and charities welcomed the fine.
Sir Tony Redmond, the London and South East chairman of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “These were extremely serious and unacceptable failings by Thames Water which had a devastating impact on the natural environment.
“We believe a fine of this magnitude sends a very clear message to the company that it needs to take seriously its environmental responsibilities.”