Stricter sentencing for environment crime

A new toolkit to tackle environmental crime has been launched by the Department of Environment. The kit offers guidance to magistrates to deliver effective sentences for environmental offences.

Launching the toolkit, Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment said that the new guidelines should result in increased fines for offences. “We must make sure it is always more costly to break the law than comply with it,” he said. The Environment Agency has been protesting for some time against low fines imposed for waste dumping, arguing that inadequate fines encouraged people to profit from breaking the law (see related story).

“Prosecutors of environmental crime will now be required to present the full costs involved in an environmental offence, including harm to the environment, to society and to the economy,” said Meacher. “Those who are responsible for pollution should be liable for the whole range of harm they do, for the totality of clean up costs and for costs of enforcement.”

The significance of environmental crime is generally underestimated, said Meacher. Typically three people are reported murdered each year in England in disputes over neighbourhood noise. Estate Agents estimate house prices can drop 10% when an area is blighted by graffiti, while a quarter of farmers have experienced illegal dumping of waste on their land, said Meacher. Customs officers seize more than 570 illegal wildlife items each day.

The information pack will help magistrates identify aggravating and mitigating circumstances and the implications of environmental crimes. Sentencing guidance will also be included. The kit covers complex offences, such as diffuse pollution and illegal trade in wildlife, as well as common offences such as fly-tipping and dog fouling.

Examples of diffusive pollution include one litre of insecticide killing over 1,000 fish in the River Glaven in Norfolk, said Meacher, while car dumping has led to 238,100 abandoned vehicles being left to be dealt with at the expense of the local authorities last year.

The initiative focuses on better sentencing to ensure the polluter pays, said Meacher, citing the recent case brought by Wicklow County Council against a landowner and a waste disposal company illegally dumping hazardous waste. In line with the polluter pays principle, the entire cost of clean up, estimated between €4 million and €20 million (£2 million to £12 million), was ordered to be shared between the landowner and waste disposal company. The alternative would have been to let the costs fall on the community, said Meacher.

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