THE health of an Oxfordshire river was recently the centre of a television programme.

Panorama on BBC One investigated the illegal dumping of untreated sewage in rivers across the country.

The River Pollution Scandal aired on Monday, with the River Windrush in Witney a focus of the half hour investigation.

Ashley Smith, from campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), spoke on the programme about river pollution.

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He told the Oxford Mail: “Getting on Panorama is a vital part in allowing people to make sensible choices and for people to get the facts rather than what the Environment Agency says.

“The public has been misled and kept in the dark, and the Panorama episode has opened the lid on this.

“We think 2.6 million people watched the episode, with more on iPlayer, so it will reach a lot of new people – it’s a big step toward improvement.”

Presenter Joe Crowley at the River Windrush. Picture: WASP

Presenter Joe Crowley at the River Windrush. Picture: WASP

The programme aired as the West Oxfordshire Green Party called for community ownership of rivers.

In a statement, the party said: “Thames Water should be upgrading sewage treatment facilities to keep pace with a growing population and using the revenue generated by new users and homes in the region.

“Thames is moving very slowly and only promising upgrades at certain sites such as Witney over the next few years.”

Witney town councillor Andrew Prosser, of the Green Party, added: “France, Germany and indeed Scotland have far more diverse and successful models of water stewardship, and superior river quality.

“All of these countries have public control of their water resources.

“Water is a natural resource and water management should be overseen by the communities in which river catchments are found, not by private shareholder interests.”

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Mr Smith said the water industry had been ‘milked for profit’ following privatisation.

A spokesperson for Thames Water said the company had not paid any dividends to its external shareholders in the last three and a half years.

The spokesperson added: “Our view is that discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and we will work with Government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.

“We believe rivers should be beautiful, natural places that provide opportunities for recreation, relaxation and inspiration for our communities.

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“Eliminating sewage discharges is not going to be quick, or easy, or inexpensive and we will need the continued support of our customers and regulators, as well as extensive collaboration with local communities and other stakeholders, to achieve it.

“We have a long way to go – and we certainly can’t do it on our own – but the ambition is clear.

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them.”

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said that due to Government pausing communications as a mark of respect following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, it was unable to provide a comment.