AN EPISODE of BBC Panorama covers the Cunsey Beck fish kill incident as part of an investigation into water pollution. 

Reporter Joe Crowley investigated sewage dumping attributed to United Utilities and a lack of regulatory oversight by the Environment Agency (EA). 

Water companies are allowed to spill untreated sewage into the environment during periods of exceptional rainfall. The Panorama episode entitled 'The Water Pollution Cover-Up' investigates how often this is done and if United Utilities has covered up spills to the Environment Agency.

Mr Crowley interviewed landowner Ed Sandys on the Cunsey Beck incident, which happened in June 2022. "We were walking up the river and we all commented when we came out of the trees that we could smell quite an awful smell coming from the water," Mr Sandys said.

"When we looked a bit closer to the river, we could see that the water is really grey. There were dead fish washed up all the way down. To think that everything in the river was dying and before your eyes was a very scary feeling, we all panicked. It was evident that it was a big polluting event."

Mr Sandys filmed a video of the wastewater treatment plant, where he says the sewage outlet discharges into Cunsey Beck. He said that you could see the colour change in the water around the pipe and that the dead fish were downstream of the pipe. 

The EA report of the incident said that the problems were 'likely to be due to high levels of algae.' However, Panorama obtained internal documents suggesting that the agency had little idea of what happened. 

Matt Staniek from the Save Windermere campaign said that the EA 'hasn't done a proper job' because they did not take fish for autopsy analysis.

A review of the investigation suggested that water pollution could not be ruled out as a cause. 

The agency declined to be interviewed by BBC Panorama, but said that they take their 'responsibility to protect the environment very seriously' and they will soon have 'new powers to deliver civil penalties that are quicker and easier to enforce.' 

The United Utilities director of wastewater treatment Mark Garth said: "We sent people to inspect our assets, nothing was found they were all operating as expected. It was evident at that time the impact was upsteam of our works." 

At this point Mr Crowley interrupts Mr Garth to say that the witness statements suggest that this was not true, saying that fish were behaving normally at Esthwaite. 

Mr Garth responds: "We continue to support the EA with their investigation but on this occasion I'm satisfied that our assets had nothing to do with the fish kill in Cunsey Beck." 

United Utilities denies any cover-ups with director of wastewater treatment. Mr Garth said: "We work extremely hard to get on top of pollution and we've been extremely proud of our performance and we continue to do that.

"Covering it up or misguiding the Environment Agency in any way is absolutely no part of that performance."

The EA told the BBC that they 'respond to every incident and always attend those where there is a significant risk' and that 'some monitoring can be done remotely.' They also said that they have forced UU to pay millions to environmental charities and are conducting their largest-ever criminal investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water companies.