THE agency which brought the prosecution of the region’s water company for allowing sewage effluent to flow into a watercourse, said it underlines, “the polluter will pay”.

Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL) was fined £240,000 and ordered to pay £34,238 following a sewage discharge which polluted Coundon Burn and the adjoining River Gaunless, at Auckland Park, near Bishop Auckland, in March 2017.

Blockage in a sewer caused raw sewage to pour out of manhole chambers near the watercourse, and flow into the burn.

An Environment Agency investigation found that a 300-metre stretch of the burn was polluted by sewage material.

NWL appeared at Newcastle Crown Court for sentence on Wednesday having previously admitted two offences over the pollution of the burn, one on March 13 and the other on March 14, 2017.

The court heard that on consecutive days brick blockage of a combined sewer caused raw sewage to pour out of manhole chambers and discharge into the burn.

A member of the public reported the initial incident to NWL which attended promptly and engineers believed they had cleared the blockage.

But when they returned to clear up the following day, they found a second manhole further downstream was by then discharging sewage into the burn.

They cut into the pipe and discovered a brick surrounded by rags and raw sewage had caused the blockage.

An Environment Agency officer attended and discovered a plume of discoloured water entering the River Gaunless from the burn.

Sample results indicated raw sewage, potentially fatal to aquatic life, had entered the burn, with further assessments revealing about 300m of the riverbed was covered in sewage material.

NWL said the brick blockage was from a damaged manhole chamber on farmland, possibly caused by farming activity, and said they had since taken steps to protect such manholes.

During the investigation manhole chambers along the sewer route in agricultural fields were checked and some damage was found, but inquiries revealed the company had no maintenance system in place to periodically check them for damage.

Instead, the company responded only after reported pollution incidents.

But in his sentencing comments, Judge Robert Adams said he found NWL was “negligent” in having no preventative systems in place but did give them credit for the steps taken since the incident to remedy the issue.

Speaking after the case, Rachael Caldwell, the Environment Manager for the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “We take our responsibility to protect the environment very seriously.

“Water companies are aware that their activities have the potential to cause serious environmental impacts and they have a legal duty to avoid pollution.

“The regulations are clear.

“Our officers worked tirelessly to bring this case to court and we’re committed to holding water companies to account.”

Mr Caldwell said the agency has secured fines of more than £137m since 2015, with record penalties handed down last year.

He added: “This makes it clear that polluters will pay for damage to the environment.”

Wednesday’s case comes only three months after NWL was fined £540,000 at Durham Crown Court, in another Environment Agency prosecution, for polluting a watercourse running through Heads Hope Dene, near Castle Eden, in May 2017.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054