A boat in the Duddon Estuary. Photo credit: Stuart Kirkwood, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1587729.
United Utilities has been called “reckless” by a High Court Judge and fined £750k after a pump failure allowed a mixture of storm and wastewater to enter the Duddon estuary at Millom in Cumbria.
The incident occurred during a weekend in May 2013, when the pump in question broke down, and a second standby pump was off-line and receiving repairs. An alarm signal failed to bring it to the attention of engineers and it wasn’t until Monday morning that the problem was discovered during a routine inspection. Temporary pumps were brought in within a few hours and a clean-up operation commenced.
At Preston Crown Court the judge said UU was guilty of a “reckless failure” for allowing sewage to enter the estuary. The company was ordered to pay the £750k fine in addition to £38,501.95 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge. UU pleaded guilty to the charges and has co-operated with the Environment Agency’s investigation. However, it is considering an appeal against the scale of the fine.
UU managing director Steve Fraser commented that his firm was “very sorry” for the incident, which it reported it to the Environment Agency immediately as soon as it was discovered. He added that there was no evidence of any ill effects on the environment. Since the incident the company has spent £18 million making improvements to its sewage disposal and treatment facilities at the affected site.