Beach pollution firm Southern Water fined £2m

Image caption More than 20 bathing beaches had to be closed

A water company has been fined £2m for polluting beaches after a pumping station failed during heavy storms.

More than 20 Kent bathing beaches were closed to swimmers after a failure at Southern Water's Foreness Point pumping station near Margate in June 2012 saw sewage discharged into the sea.

Prosecuted by the Environment Agency, Southern Water admitted two unauthorised releases of wastewater.

The firm apologised unreservedly after the Maidstone Crown Court hearing.

The Environment Agency said the pumping station failures led to prolonged discharges of untreated and partially-screened sewage, containing sanitary items and sewage-related debris, to the beach and sea.

Because of public health concerns, beaches were closed for nine days including over the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend.

Southern Water said the incidents happened during heavy storms when station pumps became blocked with large amounts of unflushable items.

After heavy rain, the station became overwhelmed and emergency measures were taken to use outfall pipes to prevent flooding inland.

Image caption Thanet council said it was "a regrettable incident"

Environment Agency area manager Julie Foley said: "The failures to contain sewage resulted in risk to public health, polluted a considerable length of coastline, including numerous beaches, and resulted in a negative impact on Thanet."

She added: "Because of these very major pollution incidents, damage was caused to the reputation of Thanet's designated bathing waters, bays and 'Blue Flag' beaches."

The Environment Agency asked the sentencing judge to consider further illegal discharges into the sea in 2014, she said.

Southern Water director Simon Oates said £4m had been invested in the site since 2012 and the company had a £6m investment plan.

He said Thanet's beaches now consistently achieved excellent bathing water status and the company would continue to work "to ensure Thanet's bathing waters are clean now and in the future".

Thanet council's chief executive Madeline Homer said: "This is clearly a regrettable incident which impacted on the area and I am pleased that Southern Water has taken full responsibility for it."

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