Witney sewage campaigners feature in a hard-hitting documentary by comedian and keen angler Paul Whitehouse.

Paul, who has starred in Gone Fishing with fellow comedian Bob Mortimer since 2018, sets out to discover whether the water companies are illegally discharging untreated sewage into our waterways to cut corners and protect profits.

In Our Troubled Rivers, he learns that firms are ignoring the regulations to only discharge sewage during heavy rainfall.

In episode one, he meets the founders of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), retired maths professor Peter Hammond and ex-police officer Ashley Smith who are trying to hold the water firms to account.

Witney Gazette:

A group of volunteers, they investigate the pollution of the River Windrush and her sister rivers.

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They collect and analyse information on water quality and sewage discharges.

In 2020, Thames Water reported spilling untreated sewage for 3,644 hours on 228 occasions from four of the sewage works on the River Windrush.

Without the work of WASP, the scale of the pollution in the Windrush Valley would have stayed hidden.

Witney Gazette:

And as this is happening to rivers across the country Ash Smith has become an influential voice on the subject nationwide. 

He was also instrumental in pressuring Thames Water to produce an interactive map providing near real-time information about its storm overflow activity.

In the documentary, the duo say the claim that raw sewage is only discharged during stormy conditions is “complete rubbish”.

Ash Smith claims that since 1989, £72billion has gone from the industry, mostly to stakeholders in China, Canada and Abu Dhabi.

They say they believe that the solution is to return the firms to public ownership.

Paul, 64, also meets pop star-turned-campaigner Feargal Sharkey in the show,

He has raised concerns about sewage pollution from Thames Water's Sewage Treatment Works at Church Hanborough contaminating bathing waters at Port Meadow in Oxford.

Paul says: “I still find it astonishing that the water companies would put untreated sewage into our rivers.”

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And he meets Mark Barrow who shows him a collection of wet wipes and sanitary products he has collected from the River Wharfe in Yorkshire.

Witney Gazette:

Paul tells him: “You wouldn’t get me in there, not in a million years.

“Oh my God. It’s liquid death. That is deeply unpleasant.

"It’s obvious that if you show that to people they’ll be appalled.

"It defies belief.”

Paul Whitehouse: Our Troubled Rivers, Sunday, BBC2, 8pm


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This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Miranda.Norris@newsquest.co.uk. Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

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