Exmouth sea swimmer hoping to sue water company for dumping sewage

  • ITV West Country reporter Richard Lawrence meets the woman taking South West Water to court for sewage discharges

A sea swimmer from Exmouth is hoping to become one of the first people to ever successfully sue a water company for dumping sewage in the sea.

Jo Bateman has decided to challenge South West Water (SWW) in the courts after losing more than 120 days of sea swims to sewage discharges.

Jo said: "Last year because of the spills, because I won't swim for 48 hours after a spill - because that's the World Health Organisation's advice - there were over 120 days when I was unable to swim, that's a third of a year.

"It's absolutely atrocious, it's disgusting and I don't know how they've been able to get away with it for so long", she added.

Discharging raw sewage into the sea after heavy rain is legal for water companies.

But Jo feels because of the number of days water companies claim this is necessary, she has decided to withhold her sewerage charge and says companies like SWW should have been investing in their services more.

Jo said: "There's not really any excuse for it ever, because if they had been investing in the infrastructure for the last 10-20-30 years, keeping on top of it, adding what was needed when we added new houses, maintaining what's there, we wouldn't be in this mess now."

Jo also wants to see alerts about sewage leaks and overflows into the sea improved to cover all year round.

In response to Jo's criticism, SWW said it is currently investing £850m this financial year, with one priority to reduce overflows at more than 150 fifty bathing and shellfish areas.

John Halsall, the chief operating officer of SWW, said in a statement: "Like all our customers, including Ms Bateman, we care deeply about the quality of our region’s bathing waters. It’s always upsetting if anyone feels they can’t enjoy the beach when they want to.

"Our customers rightly want us to reduce the use of storm overflows which are an essential pressure release valve that prevents flooding to homes and businesses. We have a plan and it is working, but we know there is more to do. This is our top priority.”

The company intends to invest £38m in Exmouth by 2030.

Jo has also said warnings about sewage discharges, usually provided via an app, are also inadequate, both in Exmouth and beyond.

These only let swimmers know when beaches may be polluted between May and September.

"There are so many water users now, not just swimmers - lots of people use the water. We need to know, and it needs to be made really accessible," she said.

For Jo, it is the principle that she is hoping to establish - asking for just £300 in compensation. But she hopes that if she is successful, it may set a precedent for more people to take polluting water companies to court.

Jo adds that she hopes her case may make bosses at sww twice before rewarding their shareholders and their managers, when she believes much more investment is needed to protect the coast.