Zero tolerance for waste crime plea

More resources are needed to investigate serious waste crimes and magistrates need help in understanding the sometimes complex details of environmental crimes.

That was the message to come out of a gathering of regulators, waste professionals, local authority officers and politicians held in London this week to discuss the best way to address waste crimes.

The Environmental Services Association’s parliamentary conference saw a variety of speakers including Environment Agency chief executive Barbara Young and Lib Dem environment spokesman Chris Huhne grasping the nettle of how to best address fly-tipping and other crimes associated with waste disposal.

“Environmental crime is a major issue affecting the whole country with one fly-tipping incident taking place every 35 seconds and the estimated annual cost of fly-tipping is about £100 million a year,” Baroness Young told delegates.

“As a modern and risk-based regulator we have already worked to streamline and more clearly communicate our approach for business.

“We reward good performers and aim to get tough on those who don’t comply with the law. However we can only succeed if we work together with the government, other enforcement partners including local councils, as well as involving businesses and communities.”

Dirk Hazell, chief executive of the ESA, told edie the conference had been timed to coincide with Defra’s consultation on the duty of care for waste.

“That’s why the subject is topical,” he said.

“At the moment we haven’t got zero tolerance because of resources.”

He said waste cases could be quite complicated and without staff and funds it was difficult for regulators to follow things up and trace those responsible.

This left the problem, sometimes quite literally, on the doorstep of the victims.

“If somebody dumps stuff in your front garden you’ve got a duty of care to get it disposed of legally,” he said.

“It’s down to you if you’re a land owner.”

To illustrate this point, the Country Landowners Association told those attending the conference about a case study where a farmer who had had a lorry load of fridges dumped on his land and faced a £10,000 bill to have them disposed of.

Whilst dealing with the stress of that on the one hand, he was also bombarded with complaints from the public about the fridges blocking a right of way and causing an illegal obstruction.

The Magistrates Association also told explained the difficulties which could face Justices of the Peace in environmental cases.

“We heard from the Magistrate’s Association about the constraints they operate under including existing sentencing guidelines,” said Mr Hazell.

“They told us they would like to see it made easier to make sentencing match the severity of the crime.

Suitable sentences are available to the courts, he said, but as waste cases and other environmental crimes were not the bread and butter of the Magistrates’ Courts, magistrates often lacked the experience of ruling on them.

“Our view would be that the Crown Court penalties can be quite draconian,” said Mr Hazell.

“But the difficulty for magistrates courts is once you’ve got the conviction you don’t necessarily know how to best proceed. They very rarely get to see environmental cases so they are not necessarily very well attuned to the severity of the environmental impact or that certain types of crook actually make a very good living from environmental crime.

“There is not necessarily a very sophisticated understanding on the bench of the context of environmental crime.”

The ESA would be looking at ways of pursuing this problem and following up suggestions made by the Magistrates Association, he said.

Sam Bond

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