A judge has accused Northern Ireland Water of having an attitude of "extraordinary complacency" for the time it took to react to a major sewage pollution incident.
Judge Philip Babington made the comment as he fined the company £40,000 for a spillage from its waste water treatment works into the Moyola River at Maghera Road in Tobermore.
The discharge, which contained noxious, poisonous and polluting matter, continued for almost 17 hours after the alarm was first raised on the morning of February 15 of last year. Previous pollution cases involving NI Water, which is effectively owned by the Department for Infrastructure, were dealt with at Magistrates Court level, but this was the first time the company had been prosecuted in the Crown Court.
The company's director of customer service delivery Sean McAleese stood in the dock as Judge Babington described the company's response to the spillage as inexcusable.
"One can only conclude that the attitude of those who dealt with this matter was one of extraordinary complacency on this occasion," Judge Babington said.
He added: "The environment in which we live is a precious heritage and it is incumbent on the present generation, including the courts, to play a part in preserving it for the future."
Judge Babington said although there was no fish kill in this case, the aquatic life of the river was endangered and samples taken were 142 times greater than an EU directive limit for poor water quality.
He said an aggravating factor in the offence, which the company admitted, was its poor previous record for similar offences.
Imposing the fine of £40,000, Judge Babington said he had fixed the amount "to bring the necessary message home to the particular defendant in order to deter future breaches".
In the wake of the verdict, NI Water said the company viewed its responsibility to the environment with the utmost seriousness, having invested £500m in the network over the last three years towards "helping make our rivers and beaches the cleanest that they have ever been".
It added: "Unfortunately, on this occasion, we failed to maintain the highly exacting standards that we set ourselves and we have already begun the process of implementing lessons learnt (from the case).
"A full survey and investigation of the drainage system at this site has been conducted and remedial actions to mitigate the risk of such an occurrence arising in the future are being put in place.
"It should be noted NI Water treats 340m litres of waste water every day through a network which comprises over 15,000 kilometres of pipes and more than 1,000 wastewater treatment works."