Agency criticised over waste crime comments

The Environment Agency’s description of waste crime prosecutions with £480 fines for three individuals as “successful” and sending a “strong message” has been roundly criticised by the waste sector.

The Environmental Services Association said the Agency’s description of the case is “a stretch of the imagination,” while the former chair of Defra’ Advisory Committee on Packaging, Phil Conran, said the fines were “not enough” to send a strong message.

In the wake of these concerns over the Environment Agency’s view this week that the prosecutions were sending a “strong message”, Defra and the EA told letsrecycle.com: “We can’t comment on the impact of the fine on an individual as that would be speculative and would pertain to that individual.”

Guilty pleas

The Agency reported on 27 June that it had “successfully prosecuted” Brian Ward, Patrick Ward and Patrick Ward (unrelated) who all pleaded guilty to charges of unlawfully depositing waste at sites across Peckham, London.

The CCTV footage showed Mr Patrick Ward’s truck entering the site with waste and leaving empty

According to the statement, the sites were subject to incursions by Travellers who cut locks to gain access and then moved in. The Agency said they deposited waste at each site before eventually being evicted.

Brian Ward (21), of The Gardens, Bessbrook, Newry, pleaded guilty to three charges of unlawfully depositing waste on land off Bianca Road in Peckham. He was fined £480 and ordered to pay £3,777 in costs and a £48 victim charge.

Mr Brian Ward pleaded guilty to depositing mixed waste at an illegal waste site on Bianca Road between 2 and 6 December 2019.

Mr Patrick Ward (50), of Dobsons Way, Bessbrook, Newry, pleaded guilty to one charge of knowingly causing the unlawful depositing of waste at an illegal waste site at Herringham Road, Charlton. He was fined £480 and ordered to pay a £48 victim charge.

Operation Angola

The Environment Agency said that the case is part of a series of prosecutions resulting from a major investigation into waste crime in London, called Operation Angola. The Agency explained that it is targeting waste criminals “who break into empty sites and fill them with waste.”

Sean Coleman, environment manager for the Environment Agency, said: “These prosecutions along with others from Operation Angola, send out a strong message that we will search out and prosecute anyone found to be dumping waste illegally. We’re pleased that our hard work has resulted in securing these convictions. Operation Angola has now secured 20 convictions.”

‘Paltry penalties’

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association said that while he recognised it was not the Environment Agency that established the penalties for the crimes, it was clearly a “stretch of the imagination to suggest that individual fines of just over £500 send a ‘strong message’ to waste criminals.”

It is clearly a stretch of the imagination to suggest that individual fines of just over £500 send a ‘strong message’ to waste criminals.


Jacob Hayler, executive director
Environmental Services Association

 

Mr Hayler said that “the UK courts must get a lot tougher on those caught”

He added that this was particularly the case, “when the offending identified under this single operation is estimated to have cost its victims more than £20 million in total.”

Mr Hayler continued: “If the UK is serious about tackling this issue, then the fine must fit the crime but these paltry penalties demonstrate why criminals target our sector, knowing that these illegal activities offer high reward for very low risk.”

He concluded: “If we are to stem the tide of waste crime in the UK the courts must get a lot tougher on those caught.

“Without a suitable deterrent warning criminals away from our sector, the Environment Agency, Crown Prosecution Service and other partners will continue to fight an uphill battle regardless of how successful they are in securing convictions.”

‘Not enough’

Mr Conran, former chair of the ACP and director at consultancy 360 Environmental, said: “The scale of the fine is not enough to send a strong message. People laugh at it because the amount of money they make outweighs the fine.”

The scale of the fine is not enough to send a strong message. People laugh at it because the amount of money they make outweighs the fine.


Phil Conran, director
360 Environmental

Mr Conran also raised the point that while individuals were often hit with fines for waste crime, the Duty of Care was “never applied to the waste producers”.

Mr Conran also raised the point of waste producer responsibility

Mr Conran explained: “You never see waste producers going to court even though the waste is their responsibility. That’s where the weakness in the system lies.”

He added that apart from there being no disincentive for the waste producer to check that their waste was being disposed of responsibly, the scale of the fine was much of the issue.

Parliament

The issue of the severity of fines has been long running, with the waste sector issuing frequent calls urging the courts to enforce stricter penalties for environmental crime.

The topic of fines generally was raised in Parliament this week. Rebecca Pow, parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said on 28 June: “The size of fines for environmental offences are at the highest they have ever been, and custodial sentences are now being imposed regularly for environmental offences.”

Mrs Pow made this claim when answering a written question from Labour MP for North Durham Kevan Jones about the declining number of prosecutions undertaken by the Agency.

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