A RECORD fine that was due to be handed to one of the country's biggest water suppliers for dumping more than a billion litres of sewage into the River Thames "needs to get a message across to shareholders," a judge warned today.

Hundreds of fish and birds died over a two-year period when "out of control" sewage treatment centres owned by Thames Water, sent untreated sewage into rivers in the beautiful countryside of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

The fine, which was set to be the largest in the firm's history, comes after tampons, condoms and sanitary towels were left floating between the banks of one of the world's most famous rivers and forced a crayfish fisherman to lay off his staff for three years.

A farmer had to stop his cattle from drinking from their normal water source and a nine-year-old sailing student became severely ill after coming in contact with raw sewage in the Thames.

Judge Francis Sheridan told Aylesbury Crown Court: "The fine has got to get the message home to Thames Water that 140 million tonnes of excrement straight into the river is unacceptable."

He added: "One has to get the message across to the shareholders that the environment is to be cherished and protected, not to be poisoned and polluted."

The court heard how the company's previous highest fine was a million-pound charge handed down in January 2016 although Judge Sheridan quppied: "The fine in this case is certainly in excess of that."

A farmer was forced to fence off his cattle from the nearest water supply after cows suffered tapeworm and a nine-year-old boy, who had embarked on sailing lessons on the river, was struck down with a severe stomach bug.

Sentencing on all charges was expected to be delivered today, but Judge Sheridan revealed another charge was due to be put to the company and sentencing was more likely to take place next Tuesday.

He added he would sentence all offences at once, as he thought it was a case of "systemic failure" rather than individual environmental breaches.

"I have to make the fine sufficiently larger so that [Thames Water] get the message. Alarms going off for days on end, certainly for more than 24 hours. Poor quality equipment," said Judge Sheridan.

"The anglers are put out of business, the fishermen are put out of business, the farmer's cattle are poisoned by the water. That is why the fine has to be sufficiently large to bring home to Thames Water 'start to comply'."

Workers at the site in Aylesbury, Bucks, logged the issues which included babies' nappies not being cleaned off and cases of illegal discharge.

Thames Water Utilities had previously admitted several charges of unlawful discharge and breaching ammonia levels under the Environmental Permitting Regulations in relation to the five sites.

The hearing continues.