Thames Water has been fined a record £20.3m — the largest penalty for a water utility for an environmental disaster — after it admitted dumping 1.4bn litres of raw sewage into the River Thames.

Britain’s biggest water company had admitted allowing huge amounts of untreated effluent to enter the river at six sites in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 2013/14.

Prosecutors at the Environment Agency said that at one site up to 32m litres of waste flowed into “one of the world’s most famous rivers” each day, leaving people and animals ill, and killing thousands of fish, writes Gill Plimmer in London.

Delivering the penalty at Aylesbury Crown Court on Wednesday Judge Sheridan said: “This is a shocking and disgraceful state of affairs.” He added: “It should not be cheaper to offend than to take appropriate precautions.”

A nine-year-old boy, who had sailing lessons on the river, was struck down with a severe stomach bug, while fish and birds died after tampons, condoms and sanitary towels were left floating in the river. A fisherman went out of business because the pollution killed his crayfish.

Thames Water has 21 days to pay. Steve Robertson, chief executive of Thames Water, said it “deeply regretted” the incidents and that pollution at Thames Water sites has halved since 2013.

“Our performance in this part of our region, at that time, was not up to the very high standards that we and our customers expect,” he said. “Since then we’ve reviewed how we do things at all levels and made a number of key changes. These have included increasing the numbers of staff in key operational roles and investing heavily to improve reliability.”

Thames’s previous record fine for pollution was £1m, paid in January 2016.

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