We work with the Proceeds of Crime Act regarding individuals who commit environmental crime. Asset recovery powers must be exercised in a way considered best calculated to contribute to the reduction of crime, by disrupting criminal networks and depriving them of illicit earnings.
The Environment Agency (EA) uses proceeds of crime legislation in the same way as other law enforcement agencies, including the police and the National Crime Agency (NCA). Criminal opportunities and the financial benefit they can bring have grown rapidly, particularly in the waste industry. The EA’s response has been to professionalise its approach.
The work is carried out by a dedicated financial investigations team, which is currently being expanded. It is regulated by the NCA Proceeds of Crime Centre, which offers us support, guidance and updates on current legislation.
The teams’ responsibilities include gathering financial intelligence in relation to criminal activity, working with the EA intelligence team and external partners. Investigators gather financial information to assist in the criminal investigation and pre-prepare evidence for confiscation regarding the Act in Crown Court.
This may result in our legal team making application to the court, after conviction, for proceeds of crime action to commence. A confiscation order, which would remove the criminal benefit for the individual or limited company, may be granted by the court.
The value of the order is calculated to include all realisable assets of the defendants, up to the value of their benefit from the criminal activity. Failure to pay the order in full can result in a prison sentence, and the order still has to be paid.
The EA has been using proceeds of crime legislation since 2008 and sometimes works with regional asset recovery teams and local police. Since then, a dedicated team of financial investigators has been formed. So far, orders to the amount of £10.9m have been granted by the Crown Court on behalf of the EA.
Where an innocent land owner has been a victim of an illegal waste site, the court can award compensation. If proceedings under the Act are ongoing, the compensation will be paid from the amount confiscated from the defendant by way of the confiscation order.
The EA has successfully made application for confiscation orders, where the court has ordered compensation be paid to the victim. For example, an individual appeared before Stafford Crown Court and was ordered to pay more than £29,000 in confiscation, and compensation was then awarded to an elderly couple whose land had been used to deposit illegal waste. The individual had to sell his property to pay the victim in full.
We hope the work we do offers some reassurance to legitimate waste operators, showing that we actively look to disrupt and deter those who are undercutting legitimate business.
Fiona Havercroft is the team leader at the Environment Agency