Tue, 01 Oct 2019
THAMES Water is “likely to be prosecuted” following a sewage leak in Thatcham which killed hundreds of fish.
The “significant pollution incident” was declared following a burst sewer pipe near Moor Ditch, a tributary of the River Kennet, on Tuesday, September 10.
Environment Agency (EA) surveys recorded hundreds of dead fish, including pike, perch, brook lamprey and bullheads, over a 1.5-mile stretch.
The agency is investigating the cause of the incident and Thames Water has apologised for the burst pipe, close to its sewage treatment works in Lower Way.
Thatcham Town Council had invited the EA and Thames Water to attend a meeting last week, but both declined.
West Berkshire Council principal engineer Stuart Clark told councillors this was because Thames Water was likely to be prosecuted.
Mr Clark said he had contacted the Environment Agency and Thames Water to find out more about the incident as it was unfolding.
He said a contact at Thames Water had told him what had happened and that the company was tankering sewage away and aerating the water to prevent fish from dying.
“Looking back she was a little bit guarded about what she had told me,” he said.
After speaking with an EA pollution team, Mr Clark said: “It was only then that I realised how bad it was and what a serious incident it was.”
The town council had invited representatives from Thames Water and the EA to provide an update at the meeting.
However, Mr Clark said he had spoken to someone at the agency, who had said “no we can’t because the chances are we are going to prosecute Thames Water”.
He said: “As far as Thames Water coming along it’s pretty pointless you asking them.
“They are going to be tight-lipped because they probably know they are going to be prosecuted.”
Town mayor Mike Cole (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said Thames Water had declined the invitation “no doubt for the reason that Stuart has outlined”.
He added: “They have suggested we have a more informal meeting.
“That has been rejected and they have been invited to our next meeting.
“I personally think it is of sufficient seriousness that it warrants a full report to this meeting.
“We clearly had a lot of concern when people were finding out about this.”
Ellen Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) asked how the incident had occurred and what measures were being put in place to prevent a repeat.
“Only Thames Water can answer you,” Mr Clark said.
“What interests me is what is going on now to restore the wildlife in the lake that has been damaged.
“As for how it came about and to ensure it’s not going to happen again, you will need to ask Thames Water.”
Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said it was terrible that Thames Water had not attended as it would have provided reassurance to residents.
“I think they should come to the town council to explain what’s gone wrong as far as they can without putting themselves in further trouble,” he said.
Town council leader David Lister (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) added his disappointment as people “didn’t know if it was safe for people to go walking with their pets near the incident”.
Mr Lister said that councillors had been notified via residents posting on Facebook and not from the agencies.
He said: “The water was absolutely white and had gone into a stream near the pumping station and into the Kennet.
“It was devoid of any life… everywhere that it touches there’s evidence of dead fish and eels.
“One thing that concerns me is the time it took for the Environment Agency to be alerted.
“People have told me it’s not the first time it has happened there. There are prosecutions going back to 1995 in the same location.”
“All the more reason they should be prosecuted,” Mr Clark said. “I suspect the lawyers step in and say ‘no you shouldn’t say anything this will be going to court’.”
Deputy mayor John Boyd (Lib Dem, Colthrop and Crookham) said: “They could have come and said we have to keep quite about this or answered some questions. I think it’s a bad reflection.”
Thames Water said that the leak has been repaired but it could not comment on speculation about any legal action.