Southern Water has been hit by record fines by Offwat after they found “shocking” failures at its sewage treatment sites had polluted rivers and beaches in southern England.

The Environment Agency also said it was pursuing a criminal investigation into Southern Water, “The environmental aspect of the investigation is ongoing and we expect to commence court proceedings soon.”

“What we found in this case is shocking,” said Rachel Fletcher, the head of water regulator Ofwat, while Southern said it was “deeply sorry”.

Ofwat found Southern Water:

Failed to operate a number of sewage treatment works properly, including not making the necessary investment, which led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater.

Manipulated its wastewater sampling process

Misreported the performance of several sewage treatment sites.

The misreporting allowed the company to avoid penalties under Ofwat’s incentive regime.

Ofwat would not say where the spillages took place (which is clearly lubricous).

Southern Water serves customers in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Southern was punished for misreporting information about its performance in 2007 when Ofwat fined the company £20.3m after its actions meant it could raise its prices by more than it should have done.

In 2017 Souther released over 17 million gallons of sewage into the channel at East Worthing.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, said: “Today’s eye-watering fines and forced customer rebates demonstrate clearly just how broken our water system is. Despite failures, chronic underinvestment and exorbitant customer bills, many water companies continue to pay out hefty dividends to shareholders.”