Raw sewage released into sea ‘to avoid Worthing Hospital flooding’

The Southern Water treatment works in East Worthing
The Southern Water treatment works in East Worthing

Southern Water released raw sewage into the sea to avoid the ‘real risk’ of Worthing Hospital flooding, a court was told.

Jon Crooke, operations manager at the company, said the sewage was discharged from its East Worthing treatment works in September 2012 after a ‘totally unexpected’ failure of all three of its effluent pumps.

It meant millions of litres of untreated waste water was released out to sea and caused the closure of all beaches between Lancing and Ferring for six days.

Speaking at the trial at Chichester Crown Court on Friday, Mr Crooke, who was head of waste water at the time of the incident, said a Worthing Action Plan had been made in 2010 in case of emergency.

Reading part of it out, he said: “This action plan has been put together following accounts of internal and external flooding at Worthing Hospital.

“Worthing Hospital is a critical facility which cannot be compromised at any cost and significant flooding could halt the facility working and could in turn put human life at risk.”

Mr Crooke said there had never before at the works been a complete failure of all three pumps, which discharge treated effluent through a long sea outfall around three miles to sea.

He said an ‘emergency circumstance’ led to Southern Water having to release the raw sewage straight out to sea through its short sea outfall

Mr Crooke said: “If the works was unable to deal with the flows and those flows backed up the sewer network, then eventually every sewer along it would have flooded and that would have included Worthing Hospital.”

The Environment Agency, prosecuting, claims that a build up of ‘ragging’ - toilet tissue and sanitary products - contributed to the pumps failure.

Giant band screens, which filter rag out of the works, had been removed from the site and temporary bar screens were in place at the time of the incident.

Earlier the court was told that a faulty sensor had caused the pumps to fail.

Steven Harper, a senior electrical and mechanical engineer at Southern Water, said a milltronics unit had incorrectly indicated that wet wells of treated effluent had been full when they weren’t, causing all three pumps to run until the wells ran empty.

This meant there was no effluent to run through pipes to cool the pump motors, and “when this happens and the gearbox is starved of lubrication, it very quickly seizes up and stops completely,” Mr Harper said.

The day began with judge Christopher Parker QC dismissing the first two of the three charges Southern Water faced because of a lack of evidence.

They related to alleged breaches of environmental permits between November 30, 2011 to September 4, 2012 due to the removal of the screens.

Because there was no evidence to say why the screens had broken down, or how long they should expect to take to repair, Judge Parker asked the jury to deliver not guilty verdicts for counts one and two.

The jury will therefore only be asked to consider count three, that Southern Water discharged the sewage because of a sudden and unexpected emergency; that it was done to avoid danger to human health; that it took all reasonable steps to minimise pollution; and that the Environment Agency was notified within a reasonable time.

Mr Crooke will continue giving evidence on Monday, with the trial set to conclude on Tuesday.

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