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Dazed and confused by waste crime

I am breaking a self-imposed rule to comment on a couple of recent court cases about waste crime that I did not witness first-hand. I have reported from enough courts over the years to know that any media report can relate only a fraction of the evidence, including the key element of mitigation. Such reports are almost always fair and accurate – but they cannot be complete records and, as such, need a degree of caution.

So it is with some temerity that I wonder how a company’s transport director can be fined a total of only £500 for two charges –  one of storing waste in excess of a permit and one for operating a site without a permit – when the same person was fined a similar amount in 2014 for a permit offence at the same site?

There may have been unreported mitigation but ignorance cannot have been part of it. I’ll not go over the cases in detail here but they can be found on the MRW website.

I am certain that a small fine for an offence concerning waste likely to cost thousands of pounds in landfill fees would not be tolerated if these cases were regularly reported in the wider media.

In fairness, the industry has seen a shift in sentencing in recent years following a review of the guidelines. In my first two years of editing MRW, I think I could have counted the number of jail terms on the fingers of one hand – and these were often suspended.

In the case mentioned above, another director was in fact jailed for a total of 10 offences. Since he already had a criminal record (fines) and his crooked handiwork resulted in two fires that burned for a total of 60 days, I would have been asking other questions of the court if the director had got any less than his 15 months.

Another aspect of the case is the appalling costs of any clear-up. At one of the sites above, the landowner now has to pay to clear the site of an estimated 75,000 tonnes of waste which will cost more than £10m to send to landfill. That’s £10m!

An obvious reaction is to ask why the criminals themselves are not forced to contribute more in costs (total costs in this case were negligible). Would it be disproportionate if greater costs were imposed, possibly paid for by the sale of private property?

This wider issue of who-cleans-up has been under consideration for some time. In 2014, a report commissioned by the Environmental Services Association Education Trust and carried out by the Eunomia consultancy, Tackling Britain’s Dirty Secret, concluded that waste crime was costing the UK economy more than £800m a year. Cleaning up after the criminals is a big chunk of that. A follow-up report is due in May.

MRW has also reported recently a couple of cases where prosecutions followed an individual’s unwillingness to observe their duty of care responsibilities in passing on waste. In my experience, many householders and business people are not aware of their legal duties so education is an important weapon in many instances.

But in some of these bigger cases, the waste must be coming from legitimate sources such as contractors or local authorities, who know what is expected of them legally. Legal authorities should be sending stronger signals that those in the criminal supply chain causing illegal or unpermitted waste piles are in the firing line.

As former Environment Agency head of illegals, Mat Crocker, writes in the current issue of MRW: “If all legitimate waste profes­sionals did just the simple things well in relationship to their duty of care, then there would be far fewer waste crimes committed.”

We also have an article on this website by the agency’s national enforcement service deputy director Nicky Lawton on a key role that can be played by hauliers in tackling waste crime.

I feel better for getting all that off my chest after the latest grim court case crossed my desk. I hope it was not intemperate or unfair.

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