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R v THAMES WATER UTILITIES LTD

The Court of Appeal set out a principled approach for determining the appropriate level of punishment where a major company had pleaded guilty to a single environmental offence which required the imposition of a fine.

2 March 2010

The appellant water company (T) appealed against a fine of £125,000 imposed on it for causing polluting matter to enter controlled waters. In the course of routine cleaning of a sewage treatment plant, a valve failure occurred and a large quantity of sodium hypochlorite was released into a river. T failed to carry out any sort of risk assessment before starting the cleaning process. Significant harm was caused to the flora and fauna around the treatment plant and up to 5kms downstream. After the incident, T accepted responsibility and co-operated fully with the Environment Agency's investigation. It also pledged £500,000 in compensation to restore the river. T had 82 previous convictions going back to 1991 for offences in connection with the discharge of sewage from its premises. In sentencing T, the recorder concluded that the starting point after a trial would have been a fine of £250,000, but she reduced it to £125,000 after considering various mitigating factors. T argued th...

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