CAROLINE Lucas has slammed Southern Water in the wake of a damning report.

The company has agreed to pay £126 million in penalties and payments to customers after a series of “serious failures”.

The Brighton Pavilion Green MP said: "Water is the most basic human necessity yet we’ve handed over control of it in England to private equity companies who are showing contempt for the customer and the environment. 

"Southern Water was the worst performing water company for years and this is long overdue.

“The list of failings is truly shocking: badly maintained equipment, raw sewage dumped in the environment and covering it up with a series of lies for seven years. 

"Yet all the while, it was paying its then chief executive more than £700,000 a year and handing out millions to shareholders.

“It’s time to stop running our water companies for profit.  

"Privatisation has failed. We should bring the water companies in England back into public ownership – for the sake of customers and the environment.”

Watchdog Ofwat said its large-scale investigation found Southern Water failed to operate a number of wastewater treatments works properly, including by not making the necessary investment, which led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater into the environment.

It added that Southern Water also manipulated its wastewater sampling process, which led to it misreporting information to the watchdog and avoiding penalties.

The company, which employs more than 2,000 people, has its headquarters are in Worthing and it also has an office in Brighton.

It serves 4.6 million customers across Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

On its website a company spokesman states: “All of us rely on water for everything – from what we eat and drink, to the rivers, fields, forests and beaches that we love.

“Our population is growing fast, and climate change is bringing greater risk of drought and flooding.

“So, together with our customers and communities, we aim to provide a sustainable, high-quality water and wastewater service that helps us create a resilient future for water in the South East.”

But an Ofwat spokesman said the company had identified “serious failures in the operation of Southern Water’s sewage treatment sites”, and also said the company had “deliberately misreported its performance”.

Ian McAulay, chief executive of Southern Water, said: “We are deeply sorry for what has happened.

“There are no excuses for the failings that occurred between 2010 and 2017 outlined in Ofwat’s report.

“We have clearly fallen far short of the expectations and trust placed in us by our wastewater customers and the wider communities we serve.

“We are fully committed to continuing the fast pace of change delivered since 2017.

“There is a lot more work to do but we’re pleased that this proposal agreed with Ofwat enables us to fully make amends to our customers and regain their trust as quickly as possible.”