A beach has been turned into a crime scene as part of a protest against sewage releases by Southern Water.
An estimated 2,000 people showed up on Tankerton Beach in Whitstable to voice their anger at the private water utility company.
The demonstration was organised by SOS Whitstable. Co-founder Ed Acteson described the attendance as "incredible" and says the message of the demonstration was: "Enough's enough".
"Over the last year Southern Water has continued to pollute the sea, break promises and now they're even hiding sewage releases on their interactive map," he said.
As part of the protest, activists taped off a large portion of the beach as a crime scene, before putting down dozens of numbered markers under which they lay news articles reporting on Southern Water's polluting activities.
Mr Acteson, who lives and works in Whitstable, says the display was to draw attention to the serious harm being done.
"Last year Southern Water was fined £90 million for the worst environmental crimes in the history of the Environment Agency.
"They've quite literally turned the entire beach into a crime scene, so we represented that by turning it into a crime scene today.
"The impact the sewage releases have is three-fold," explained Mr Acteson, 37.
"Firstly there’s massive environmental damage. Secondly, there’s the risk to public health - we get a lot of reports from people who have become ill after swimming, and thirdly there’s the economic harm to Whitstable.
"Whitstable’s reputation as a seaside town has been damaged hugely over the past few years, not as many people want to come and visit here anymore and that inpacts the whole high street.
"We've put together a petition calling for the entire industry to be put back into public ownership and just in the last month we’ve got 195,000 signatures."
In 2021 Southern Water was sentenced to pay a record seven-figure fine for 6,971 unpermitted sewage discharges which polluted rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex, following the largest criminal investigation in the Environment Agency's 25-year history.
The utility company pleaded guilty to charges, which included dumping 21 billion litres of raw sewage into seas off the Kent coast.
At a High Court Ruling at Canterbury Crown Court, the offences were found to be caused by deliberate failings, causing major harm.
Delivering his sentence, the Honourable Mr Justice Johnson said: "Each of the 51 offences seen in isolation shows a shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment, for the precious and delicate ecosytems along the North Kent and Solent coastlines, for human health, and for the fisheries and other legitimate businesses that depend on the vitality of the coastal waters."
A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “We understand the concerns of those who have been protesting this weekend.
“Protecting the environment is a key priority for us and we are leading the water industry in developing solutions to reduce our reliance on permitted storm overflows.
"These are the combined sewage system’s pressure valve at times of increased rainfall, to avoid flooding people’s homes and communities – but we agree that these are not an acceptable measure.
“Working in partnership with councils and other stakeholders, we are finding ways to remove rainfall from the sewage network, utilising Southern Water engineering and nature-based solutions.
"We already engage extensively with campaign groups and will continue to do that at every available opportunity.”