On November 5 2010, a member of the public reported a large fire at a waste site at Hayedown, Tavistock. The size of the flames and large amount of black acrid smoke made the person suspect plastic or rubber was being burnt.

Environment agency officers visited the site and spoke to the operator, Roger Sparling, who claimed the bonfire was a traditional November 5th celebration for his staff and family. Sparling runs a waste transfer station that adjoins an old landfill which is used to store waste materials awaiting recycling.

Officers found the remains of a very large fire measuring approximately 40ft across on the site of the old landfill. The centre of the fire was still smouldering and contained the partially burnt remains of various waste including metal cans, melted glass, tyres and a mattress.

Flames from the fire were reported to be higher than a 6-8m high earth bund surrounding the landfill. Unusually for a Guy Fawkes bonfire, there were no fireworks.

Agency officers told Sparling the size of the fire was ‘excessive’. It was apparent the fire had contained more than just clean wood and that a large quantity of skip waste had been illegally burnt.

An Environment Agency spokesperson commented: “There is nothing wrong with burning clean wood on Bonfire Night, but when November 5 is used as an excuse to get rid of unwanted waste materials that have the potential to cause harm to human health and the environment, we won’t hesitate to prosecute.”

Appearing before Plymouth magistrates, Sparling was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £2,302 costs after pleading guilty to illegally disposing of waste by burning, an offence under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.

Maxine Perella

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