Published: 13:00, 06 March 2012
Art teacher Jacque Hall and partner Carl Elesniewocz had their basement flat in Richmond Street, Herne Bay, flooded
by Paul Hooper
Southern Water has found itself in the mire - after allowing up to 60 houses in Herne Bay to be flooded with sewage.
The incident took place during a stormy night in August 2010, when families in three streets discovered polluted water pouring out of their own toilets.
Firefighters helped pump out the sewage that rose to between three and four feet in the basements of some of the houses in Mortimer Street, Richmond Street and Central Parade.
The company - which controls about 13,000 miles of sewer pipes across Kent and the south east - has so far handed out more than £763,000 in compensation.
Now it has been fined £50,000 after admitting it broke the law by failing in its duty to prevent the leak.
Southern Water admitted contravening the 1990 Environment Protection Act - its 152nd conviction for breaching regulations.
David Walbank, prosecuting, told Canterbury Crown Court the incident risked ill health to residents and those involved in the clean up.
He said there had been widespread damage to houses and businesses - and resulted in angry residents claiming it was the FIFTH flooding incident in the area.
"The company has a statutory duty to take all steps to prevent the escape of sewage," he said.
Mr Walbank added a valve to a pipe that allowed waste to be deposited into the sea during storms was shut forcing a back up - and the came out through the toilets of some of the homes.
Mr Walbank said that a secondary system that should have alerted Southern Water staff at its headquarters had "malfunctioned" and the company could not initially be contacted.
Although residents began calling the emergency services at 11.10pm, it was not until 5.30am that Southern Water staff took control of the clean-up operation.
"By that time," Judge Geoffrey Breen said, "the damage had been done."
Clifford Darton, for Southern Water, said that since the incident the company had taken steps to ensure the problem would not happen again.
He blamed a valve on the emergency outlet pipe and electrical problems for the incident, which caused widespread destruction to homes and businesses.
And he pleaded with the judge not to make the company "a whipping boy for public anger".
He said: "We can say that this won't happen again because the fail-safe mechanisms are now operational."
In May 2007, Southern Water was ordered to pay £10,000 in fines and legal costs after it let sewage seep into a stream after the failure of a pumping station at Gainsborough Drive, Beltinge, which polluted 550 yards of Bishopstone Glen - a short watercourse which flows through housing estates, woodland and then discharges into the sea.
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