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LONDON (Reuters) - One of Britain's biggest water companies was handed a record 20 million pound ($25 million) fine on Wednesday for pumping sewage into the River Thames, killing wildlife and spreading sickness among livestock and people.
The government brought the case against Thames Water for breaching environmental regulations after it polluted the river in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to the west of the capital.
Britain's Environment Agency said that a "catalogue of failures" by Thames Water's management had killed wildlife and disrupted the lives of local businesses, farmers and fishermen.
A spokeswoman for Aylesbury Crown Court said Thames Water's failure to comply with regulations resulted in fines totalling nearly 20.4 million pounds.
The company had pumped 1.4 billion litres of raw sewage into the river between 2012 and 2014, the Environment Agency said.
"Where negligence causes serious pollution, or a serious threat to the environment, we will seek the strongest possible penalties," James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said in a statement, adding that the fine was record-breaking.
"This case sends a clear signal to the industry that safeguarding the environment is not an optional extra, it is an essential part of how all companies must now operate."
Judge Francis Sheridan condemned Thames Water for their "disgraceful conduct", saying it was a "very dark period in the history" of the company.
Richard Aylard, sustainability director at Thames Water, apologised for the firm's failings, and said it was working to improve rivers, and "not just get them back to where they should be".
"We have failed in our responsibility to the environment," Aylard told reporters. "Lessons have been learned, and the evidence is there, and the evidence will continue to be there, of our improved performance."
Aylard said customers bills would not go up as a result of the fine, which would be paid by shareholders.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison