Sewage boss 'covered up water pollution'

A SEWAGE plant manager tried to cover up the release of toxic effluent into a waterway by falsifying documents and telling staff to stay quiet, a court heard.

Will Clarke

A SEWAGE plant manager tried to cover up the release of toxic effluent into a waterway by falsifying documents and bullying staff to stay quiet, a court heard.

The senior Anglian Water employee was only found out when a colleague blew the whistle on him and tests proved the level of pollution.

Mildenhall Magistrates Court heard yesterday the water company had pleaded guilty to three charges of releasing waste into controlled waterways at Newmarket during a nine-month spell in 2006.

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The court heard yesterday that release of ammonia into the waterways on January 17, 2006, was double the limit for the toxic sewage bi-product.

Following the breach, the manager in charge of the Anglian Water sewage plant at Newmarket, who was not named in court, tried to hide what happened, said Angela Harris, for the Environment Agency.

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“There was gross misconduct by someone in a reasonably senior management position,” she said.

“The manager responsible falsified the log book by removing documents and cajoled other employees into concealing what happened.

“Had it not been for the whistleblower and Environment Agency tests we might not have known about it.”

In the second incident, on July 27, a separate employee at the same plant released sewage that suffocated water life in Newmarket Drain as far away as Fordham and Soham.

Miss Harris said that Anglian Water workers had “ignored” the alarm fitted to a pump for 12 hours and she estimated this sewage release killed 1,200 fish.

And, on September 4, the firm breached the legal limit for ammonia release by double again, killing hundreds of fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Anglian Water pleaded guilty to the three charges dating and also asked for a fourth charge, of releasing illegal quantities of ammonia at Newmarket on April 13 this year, to be taken into consideration.

Mark Harris, for Anglian Water, said the firm took the incidents extremely seriously and apologised to the public and the agency for what he admitted had been a problematic time at the Newmarket plant.

He responded to criticism that the firm did not co-operate with inspectors by pointing out that Anglian Water bosses did hold director-level meetings with the Environment Agency and did put forward managers for interview when requested.

However, he admitted one letter had been “unhappily litigious” and added this stance was inconsistent with its attitude toward the regulator.

Mr Harris said the manager at the plant had been sacked for gross misconduct after the whistleblower came forward.

But he argued the manager, that although technically competent, had “interpersonal problems” and was acting so far outside the company's remit it was “not fair” for Anglian Water to be held responsible.

In the second incident, Mr Harris admitted an otherwise fully trained employee had made a “mistake” by not switching on a back-up pump, which others had then assumed was operating automatically when the alarm sounded.

In the third incident staff mistakenly believed engineers were repairing a damaged pump.

Since the nine-month spell, Mr Harris said Anglian Water had spent £100,000 on improvements and extra training in Newmarket and asked the court to take the early guilty plea into consideration.

Magistrates decided the case was beyond their sentencing powers and sent the case to Crown Court at time and place to be set at a later date.

Last week it emerged that customer complaints against Anglian Water had risen by 10,000 in a year, up to 25,891 in 2007-8.

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