SOUTHERN Water is being prosecuted for discharging huge amounts of raw sewage into the coastal waters over a six-year period.

The company has been taken to court by the Environment Agency in what is being described as the worst case brought by the organisation in its history.

Southern Water has pleaded guilty to 51 charges relating to 7,000 discharges from 16 waste water treatment works across the south.

The sites involved include four in Hampshire - Beaulieu, Millbrook, Portswood and Slowhill Copse in Marchwood.

Documents released by the Environment Agency refer to 176 discharges at Beaulieu, 434 at Millbrook, 224 at Portswood and 673 at Slowhill Copse. All occurred between January 2010 and December 2015.

An Environment Agency spokesman said the alarm was raised in 2014 after problems involving shellfish off the Kent coast.

He said similar problems in the Solent and elsewhere along the south coast led to a major investigation.

Southern Water pleaded guilty in March 2020 but is contesting the level of harm caused by the discharges.

The arguments are being heard at Canterbury Crown Court in a case expected to last until Friday, when the company is likely to be sentenced.

The Environment Agency says "very considerable environmental damage" was caused by the discharges.

In 2019 Southern Water agreed to pay £126m in penalties and rebate payments to customers following serious failures in the operation of its sewage treatment sites.

It followed a huge investigation by Ofwat, which regulates the industry.

Ofwat found that Southern Water failed to operate a number of wastewater treatments works properly. Lack of investment led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater into the environment.

Southern Water later appointed a new chief executive and made substantial changes to the company’s management team.

A company spokesperson was unavailable for comment on the case brought by the Environment Agency.