Southern Water is the latest company to receive a heavy fine for environmental offences, following a pollution incident in Kent in June 2012 where large amounts of sewage were expelled onto the Thanet coastline after pumping station failures. The court heavily criticised Southern Water for complacency, particularly given its history of 160 convictions for pollution offences. The judge imposed a record fine of £2 million on Southern Water for causing a water discharge activity other than authorised by their environmental permit, saying "the message must go out to directors and shareholders that repeated offending of this nature is wholly unacceptable".
Quick action is more important than ever when dealing with a pollution incident and the requirement to maintain good systems. The most common aggravating factors when sentencing are offending over an extended period of time, and a history of non-compliance.
Since the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines, multi-million pound fines have become more frequent. The average fine for environmental offences has nearly doubled from £39,200 to £70,600. In January 2016, Thames Water received a £1 million fine for a sewage pollution offence. At the time, that was the highest fine given in an EA prosecution. The record has now been broken twice, and the highest fine ever awarded has doubled – all in the space of a year. This shows that the courts have got to grips with the sentencing guidelines, they are comfortable in applying them and that much higher fines are the result.