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Thames Water fined more than £3m over sewage spill that turned rivers black near Gatwick Airport | UK News

Thames Water have been fined more than £3m after admitting polluting rivers.

The company, which supplies one in four people in Britain with water, had pleaded guilty to four charges relating to illegally discharging waste.

It was fined £3.3m at Lewes Crown Court on Tuesday.

The court heard “millions of litres” of undiluted sewage was pumped into the Gatwick Stream and River Mole between Crawley in West Sussex and Horley in Surrey on 11 October, 2017.

The hearing was told that the spill turned the water “black” and killed more than 1,000 fish.

More than 1,000 fish died as a result of sewage in rivers
More than 1,000 fish died as a result of sewage in rivers

Judge Christine Laing KC said that she believed the firm had shown a “deliberate attempt” to mislead the Environment Agency over the incident, by omitting water readings and submitting a report to the regulator denying responsibility.

The company has previously been fined £32.4m for pollution incidents in the Thames Valley and south-west London between 2017 and 2021.

During the first day of the hearing on Monday, the court heard how a storm pump at Crawley Sewage Treatment Works site was unexpectedly diverting sewage to its storm tank for 21 hours and went “unnoticed”.

Prosecutor Sailesh Mehta estimated untreated sewage was spilling into the river for six and a half hours after no alarm was raised.

When an alarm was raised the lead technician was unreachable as they were waiting for a new mobile phone.

Read more:
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Eyewitness accounts read in court said how they saw the river turn “black” and “grey”, with “huge numbers of dead fish” visible in the water.

Nearly 1,400 dead fish were recovered from the rivers by the Environment Agency following the incident.

Lisa Roberts KC, representing Thames Water, said the firm expresses its “unreserved and sincere apology” for the incident, adding: “Put bluntly, it shouldn’t have happened and Thames deeply regrets the event.”

More than 1,000 fish died as a result of sewage in rivers

She said the company rejects that previous issues were to blame for the spillage, putting it down to a “faulty switch” in the storm pump which meant the incident could not have been predicted.

A £33m plan to improve the Crawley site has been put in place since the incident, according to Ms Roberts, with aims to complete it by the end of March 2025.

New systems have also been rolled out across other Thames Water sites to prevent such incidents happening again.

The fine comes as the company faces concerns over its future amid a mounting £14bn debt.

Thames Water’s chief executive Sarah Bentley stepped down with immediate effect last week after she gave up her bonus due to the company’s environmental performance.

In 2021, Southern Water was fined a record £90m for nearly 7,000 incidents of illegal discharge of sewage across Hampshire, Kent and Sussex.

Local elections: Voters turned away at polling stations for not having the right ID | Politics News

Standing outside a windy polling station in the Nottingham neighbourhood of Hyson Green, Niam sets out in passionate terms why everyone should be willing – and able – to vote.

The single mother left Sudan during the civil war in the 90s and is now anxiously trying to keep in touch with family in Khartoum.

“Every woman should vote because in our country women do not have a voice. But in this country, we should work together to help,” she said.

She says it was her daughter who told her that she’d need to bring ID.

Niam is a single mother from Sudan

“I am lucky, my daughter is at university, she called me and said mum you should take your ID… the council should tell the people how to vote, it’s very important”, said Niam.

Live updates on local elections
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Hyson Green has the largest ethnic minority population in Nottingham and there have been worries that neighbourhoods like these may be disproportionately impacted by the new voter ID rules.

More on Local Elections 2023

Over three hours at two polling stations in the area, we spoke to 10 people who were turned away for not having the correct ID.

Thirty-six people came to vote at the Vine Community Centre between 7am and 10.30am – and of these, three were rejected.

Polling station
The Vine Community Centre in Hyson Green

In 40 minutes at another nearby polling station, 16 people came to vote – with two people turned away.

Lal and Man had photographs of their passports but were told they needed hard copies.

But 10 minutes after being turned away, they were back – proudly brandishing their IDs and keen to vote.

Lal and his wife returned 10 minutes later brandishing their IDs and keen to vote
Lal and his wife had photos of their passports and were turned away – but they returned 10 minutes later with their IDs

Others arrived with driving licences, blue parking badges and pensioner bus passes.

One taxi driver was left disappointed though after his council-issued licence was rejected.

In reality, a morning spent chatting to voters only takes us so far.

The fact that turnout in local ballots is lower than in a general election may well cloud the true impact.

Nevertheless, critics of the reforms are certain they will primarily affect areas with a younger, more deprived and more diverse population.

Nadia Whittome MP
Nadia Whittome MP

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Nadia Whittome, the MP for Nottingham East – and the youngest member of the Commons – says the government is pursuing the policy to suppress groups who would usually vote Labour.

Ministers fiercely deny this, pointing to trial studies that show next to no impact on turnout.

But with very few instances of voter fraud, it is legitimate to ask whether this is an expensive fix to a non-existent problem.

It’s thought between one and three million people hold no valid ID.

But data on who these voters are is mixed and complex, with several different groups potentially affected.

A 2021 study suggested older people may be vulnerable because passport holding drops sharply after age 65 with lower numbers of people carrying driving licences between the ages of 45 and 60 too.

Variations between ethnicities are also smaller than some suggest with social and educational differences arguably playing a bigger role.

The government and the Electoral Commission will publish their own reports on the impact of the new rules later this year.

But even on this, there’s an argument over how data on rejected voters is being collected.

One select committee has said some people will be turned away by meet-and-greet staff on the door of polling stations and as such not recorded in the official tally.

There’s also the unknown factor of those who don’t even turn up to vote because of the new requirements.

In Nottingham, few people seemed particularly riled by the rules.


Bugsy, a Labour voter originally from Ireland, welcomed the changes as a reassuring measure at a time when some are trying to undermine elections.

“There are so many folks who want to wriggle around on the result, make it more in question,” he said, before adding with an exasperated laugh, “I suppose they’ll find a way around it in the end though”.

The Electoral Commission said that overall the elections were “well run” but the requirement to carry photo identification posed a challenge and some people were unable to vote as a result, although detailed work will be needed to understand the scale of the problem.