Thames Water contacted pub 15 times about its kitchen before taking it to court for “sewer abuse”

Thames Water Solidified cooking fat from the sewer near the Angel on the Bridge

A Henley-on-Thames pub and its landlord have been fined more than £16,000 for allowing cooking fat and oil to enter the town’s sewer network, in a landmark case brought against them by Thames Water.

Mark Dunlop, who owns the Angel on the Bridge, pleaded guilty to breaching the Water Industry Act in court on Friday, March 12.

It is the first time Thames Water has prosecuted a food outlet for “sewer abuse” – a practice which is responsible for thousands of blockages and fatbergs every year.

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The case covered several instances between 2017 and 2019 where significant amounts of fat, oil and grease from the pub’s kitchen were allowed to get into the sewer network, increasing the risk of blockages which can lead to sewage backing up into homes, businesses and the environment.

Anna Boyles, who oversees Thames Water’s sewer protection team, said: “Cooking fat and oil from homes and businesses cause huge problems when it gets in our sewers as it congeals and blocks the pipes. When this happens, sewage backs up through the system and can flood properties and cause catastrophic environmental damage, so it’s something we take extremely seriously.

“In most cases we’re able to work with food outlets and support them to install the right equipment in their kitchens to capture fat, oil and grease, but if they don’t change their behaviour we have no other option.

“Taking someone to court is always a last resort and this is the first time we’ve had to go this far. We’re pleased The Angel on the Bridge now has the right kit installed to stop more fat entering the sewers.”

Thames Water has a dedicated team which was formed four years ago to visit food outlets in sewer blockage hotspots.

It works with owners and kitchen staff to explain the importance of having grease management in place to comply with the law and hand out free advice packs, including posters, for display near sinks and drains.

In total the Thames Water team visited, wrote to, and called the Angel on the Bridge’s management, including Mr Dunlop, 15 times to discuss its abuse of the sewers before the decision to prosecute was finally made.

In court the judge described the pub’s practices as “a serious potential environmental issue”.

Mr Dunlop was personally ordered to pay £7,170, while the business must pay £9,170, making a total of £16,340.

Each year Thames Water clears 75,000 blockages from its sewers, at a cost of £18m, with fatty build-ups a primary cause.

Edward Palin, commercial director at the Filta Group, said: “As we can see with this first-ever prosecution by Thames Water, the penalties for not having correct grease management equipment in place are significant. Across the UK, water companies are taking increasingly firm action on FOGs.

“It is vital that operators install equipment that meets the Water Company requirements – fitting the wrong size equipment is a real risk and it doesn’t help anyone. Talking to a grease management expert will ensure that the sizing and specification are checked and inline with the relevant requirements.”

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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