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Major investigation or desperate smokescreen?

Last week after years of looking the other way, the Environment Agency announced a major investigation into the whole water industry for massive criminal failure to perform its obligations in treating sewage. But is it what it seems?

A relentless barrage of top quality analysis by WASP's Professor Peter Hammond has revealed extensive illegal pollution by water companies. The newspaper articles and TV coverage of the stories have spread like wildfire across all media, especially recently, but we and other campaigners have been highlighting water industry malpractice and Environment Agency failure for years.

The Panorama - River Pollution Scandal episode was a major step forward in getting the truth about criminal pollution into public view.

Panorama - Prof Peter Hammond's data analysis showing sewage being dumped illegally

But before that, things had already become serious in March this year with Peter's publication of an academic paper regarding the use of artificial intelligence to identify unreported sewage dumping. It was genuinely groundbreaking and the Guardian reported the 'dark spills'.

This progressed through the Panorama episode in April. Peter's evidence is compelling.

and then the Rivercide live documentary with WASP on the recording at 12:15

This was followed by more newspaper, radio and TV coverage, the latest being ITV Tonight just 3 weeks ago when the Environment Agency was still steadfastly and ridiculously in denial that it was missing anything and its Operations Director was of the view that companies would not cheat....

Prof Hammond had even met and fully briefed Environment Minister Rebecca Pow and EA staff in June this year to demonstrate what her Agency had failed to uncover.

Prof Peter Hammond explaining the extent of illegal pollution on national TV

Then came the latest series of expose' papers from Peter, yet more media coverage and our letter to the Secretary of State highlighting the Environment Agency's catastrophic failure to identify many hundreds of illegal pollution events affecting everyone; a letter that Environment Secretary, George Eustice has not even had the courtesy to acknowledge.

WASP had even met Minister Rebecca Pow for a second time on a video call arranged by MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown but she still seemed to have little grasp of how badly her Agency had failed the country so, without a sensible response from the regulators, the pressure kept building, especially as a majority of MPs voted not to take decisive action to end pollution and the Environment Act was forced onto the statute books by dubious means.

Something had to give and finally, Defra, the Agency and Ofwat have finally woken up and we now hear the bizarre claim that the Agency has itself discovered what has already been explained to them and Minister Rebecca Pow in great detail throughout the year.

Even less likely, in our view, is the suggestion that the water industry has come forward en masse to proactively admit crimes because they fear the Agency's scrutiny from some meters that haven't even been insdtalled! Remember, this is an industry that has been breaking the law and blatantly ignoring the ineffective Environment Agency for years - and getting away with it.

Ofwat, the financial regulator, is also rattled by criticism for presiding over this sewage shambles and even causing it. Here is a letter we received from the Interim CEO last Thursday as the story broke.

It seems that people are getting worried about being found out and so they should. Our rivers and seas have been sacrificed for gross industry profit through utter incompetence in regulation that squandered the investment potential of 32 years of private ownership and left us with a failed sewer network and the government trying to blame the Victorians..

The attitude of the Environment Agency's leadership has been arrogant and dismissive, but with shifting responses as the evidence became overwhelming and extremely embarrassing to its Chief Executive and Chair, both of whom share the blame for letting down a core of dedicated staff as well as the whole country.

Here is a sample from one of them.

Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of Environment Agency in August 2019, responding in a long letter to the Times to criticism from campaigners published in that paper.

Water companies are not “free to pollute”. They have to meet tough standards set by the law and the Environment Agency, which they do meet in almost all cases. If they fail to do so we take action against them, up to and including criminal prosecution. …………we do our own testing, and we monitor and regularly inspect their facilities.

Of course we knew how fanciful those claims really were but not that they would be so brutally exposed as fake so soon.

In November 2021 – the Same Emma Howard-Boyd reported in the Financial Times after campaigners exposed widespread water industry criminality and her Agency’s ineptitude. “This is a major issue of public trust,” she said, adding that ''more attention should be paid to the directors of water companies that were guilty of repeated breaches of environmental law. They should “be struck off and in the most grievous cases given custodial sentences.”

This from a leader of an Agency that has never got anywhere near investigating water industry board members and even had one of its own Directors take up a job with Southern Water during a serious criminal investigation into the company.

One final question from WASP;

What should be done about the leadership of the failed Environment Agency that sat arrogantly by ignoring the hard evidence for so many years, thereby facilitating criminal pollution?

A big thank you to the media without whom criminality and incompetence would prosper.



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