A water company has been fined over £2.6m after allowing sewage equivalent to three Olympic-sized swimming pools to flow into the North Sea.
The firm was ordered to pay a total penalty of £2,666,690.09 at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court on Thursday - the biggest ever fine imposed for environmental offences in the East of England.
The judge said the scale of the fine related to the water company "finding itself in court so frequently".
The Environment Agency said the amount of sewage entering waters was "unacceptable" and it welcomed the sentencing.
Anglian Water apologised "wholeheartedly" for the spill, but said it was disappointed with the level of the fine because the discharge had "no harmful impact on the environment".
According to the Environment Agency, the sewage discharges at Jaywick came because Anglian Water decommissioned a piece of equipment at the site, which led to the conditions for untreated sewage to be released into the North Sea.
Available data would have alerted it to the issue, but was not acted upon.
Sentencing Anglian Water, District Judge Andrew King said "more could and should have been done" to prevent the pollution.
He told the court that the level of the fine reflected that “Anglian Water finds itself in court so frequently” and showed “a clear pattern of the company not responding adequately” to previous penalties, according to the agency.
Essex EcoTherapy runs cold water therapy sessions in Clacton-on-Sea and said it was concerned about being able to use local beaches because of sewage pollution.
Marie-Ann Capps, who runs the sessions, said: "If we are threatened with not being able to use the local beaches because of fear of sewage pollution it would be devastating to many of our swimmers, as well as dog walkers and other groups who use the beach daily for recreational activities.
"It is abhorrent that anyone thinks it is safe to dump raw sewage in the sea affecting marine life let alone putting people at high risk."
Water Minister Rebecca Pow said going forward all fines would be paid into the Water Restoration Fund to support projects improving water quality.
The blockage was cleared by Anglian Water in August 2018 and the company has since taken action to address the issues.
These included ensuring equipment was in working order, implementing a regular cleaning regime, and increasing the storm flow separation weir height to reduce the possibility of premature overflows.
A spokesperson for Anglian Water said: “We apologise wholeheartedly for this incident.
"We’re very clear that one spill is one too many and we are constantly striving to improve our systems to predict, mitigate and, where possible, eliminate events like these from happening.
"On this occasion, the judge found that there was no harmful impact on the environment, so we are disappointed and confused about the level of the fine and the way it was derived.
“There is no place for spills but fines should be proportionate to the environmental impact. On this occasion the judge agreed that there was none.”
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