Recycling firm receives five-figure fine for tyre offences…
…but may be counter-suing the Environment Agency for millions. On 1 February Recycled Construction Systems Ltd (RCS) was ordered to pay £27,244 in fines and costs for illegally storing 100,000 waste tyres at a warehouse in East Devon. In the case was brought by the Environment Agency (EA) and heard at Exeter Crown Court RCS was found guilty of illegally depositing and storing 96,000 waste tyres at Westerhope Units, Dunkeswell. According to the EA, the company was one of several defendants in the South West’s largest ever waste crime investigation.
At the sentencing hearing Judge Philip Wassall described it as a ‘serious offence’ involving a very large number of tyres. ‘The law is there for a reason and the Environment Agency had a duty to investigate,’ he said. The company, which is no longer trading, was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £26,244 costs.
A former partner in RCS, Tom Dunn, of Cutsey, Taunton, was given a two year Conditional Discharge and ordered to pay £5,400 costs after being found guilty, at the earlier trial, of illegally exporting thousands of waste tyres to Vietnam. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Wassall, said Dunn had ‘chanced it and been caught out’ when he decided to flout Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations and export waste tyres to Vietnam. By imposing a Conditional Discharge, the judge said he had taken into account the ‘considerable impact’ the investigations had had on Dunn and his family: “If you come back and are convicted of further waste offences, the court will take a very different view. I can promise you that.”
However, it has to be said that it is not the first time that Dunn has fallen foul of waste tyre management legislation. On 4 July 2008, Tom Dunn Ltd was prosecuted by the Environment Agency for depositing approximately 30,000 waste tyres on a disused airfield at Tricky Warren Farm, Devon, without a licence. The case was heard by Taunton magistrates who fined the company £2,500 with £1000 costs.
Indeed it appears that Dunn has been moving in some fairly dodgy circles as the 26-year-old was among five defendants who were found or pleaded guilty to environmental offences following Operation Hemlock, a major investigation into large-scale illegal waste activities led by the Environment Agency’s South West Environmental Crime Team.
Other defendants included Nicholas Gauntlett who pleaded guilty to operating an unlicensed waste site at a farm near Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire. The case against Gauntlett was adjourned pending the outcome of a Proceeds of Crime confiscation application by the Environment Agency.
Carl Steele of Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire pleaded guilty to depositing waste tyres at Gauntlet’s farm. Steele has already received a six-month supervision order at an earlier hearing at Lincoln Crown Court and had previously been imprisoned for a series of waste tyre offences across the UK. In fact he is somewhat infamous in the tyre trade following new reports last April that he only paid of £122 of a £2.5 million fine imposed for other offences relating to the mishandling of tyres.
Buried but not forgotten
The court heard how thousands of tyre bales formed from waste tyres had been used to construct schooling facilities and training gallops at several equestrian centres across the West Country. The defendants argued that the bales were buried to improve drainage and provide a springy surface for horses to train on. Each bale contains up to 100 waste tyres held together with steel wires. The prosecution argued that the tyre bales were waste as they did not meet the relevant technical standards. According to the EA, many sites lacked planning permission and in some cases landowners were paid to accept the bales. The owners of one such landowner, Stidson Equestrian Centre, were never charged with any waste offences, but were served with an enforcement notice by Dartmoor National Park Authority requiring a large number of tyres to be removed from their land. This resulted in the owners incurring tens of thousands of pounds of costs (see illustration).
Dunn was acquitted of four offences of depositing waste at two equestrian sites. This included a South Devon equestrian centre where Dartmoor National Park Planning Authority served an Enforcement Notice requiring 130,000 tyres to be removed at the landowner’s expense. Two other defendants were also acquitted of related offences including running an illegal waste site at one of the equestrian centres and failing to keep waste tyres secure.
The offences near Chipping Sodbury involved the use of bales to create a track and drainage area. Owner of the farm, Nick Gauntlett also used in excess of 3,800 bales (380,000 tyres) to construct a horse gallop at the site. In December 2010, South Gloucestshire Council Planners served a Planning Enforcement Notice requiring the removal of many of the tyre bales from the farm.
Inquiries by the Agency revealed that in addition to supplying tyre bales to equestrian centres, Dunn was also illegally exporting waste tyres to Vietnam. In 2009 an estimated 37,500 – 45,000 tyres were exported to Vietnam in 15 shipping containers. The export was organised from premises at MTR (Bristol) Ltd, of Sussex Street, Bristol – a site, according to the EA, managed by Dunn. The court heard that containers went to Vietnam where the import of waste tyres is prohibited.
“The illegal handling of waste tyres is a serious issue that affects the environment and undermines the legitimate tyre recycling industry. We take environmental crime very seriously and won’t hesitate to prosecute offenders,” said Andy Gardiner for the Environment Agency.
The cost to the Environment Agency of investigating and concluding this large and complex case was approximately £200,000. “These costs have been incurred in a bid to protect the environment and ensure a level playing field for the tyre recycling industry,” said Andy Gardiner.
The Tyre Recovery Association (TRA) praised the EA: “Britain’s tyre recycling industry has suffered a severe battering at the hands of rogue operators and other opportunists. The activities of these waste criminals can be very damaging. We therefore welcome the efforts of the Environment Agency to combat some of the worst examples of waste crime. To its credit, the Agency recognises how important it is to protect legitimate operators from the activities of waste criminals and deserves our support,” said a spokesman.
Reports: Defendants to counter-sue the EA
However something of a row has broken out between the EA and the men involved in the case, with the latter describing the action as a “failed prosecution”. And what’s more they are apparently preparing to sue the Agency for up to £20 million.
According to Horse and Hound magazine, Tom Dunn said he and his colleagues lost more than £8 million in cancelled contracts during the three years it took for the case to come to court. The report also states that the original case was brought at a cost of £2 million, ten times more than the EA’s figure of £200,000. Speaking with Tyres & Accessories and Environment Agency spokesperson confirmed the £200,000 estimate and question where the £2 million figure came from.
Horse and Hound quote Dunn as saying: “We had very large waste management companies giving us substantial contracts and, on the basis of the case brought against us, we lost a lot of business,” and adding: “The Environment Agency’s enforcement teams are running around with taxpayers’ chequebooks. It is alarming to see how a public authority can squander millions of pounds.”
While the instances of illegal tyre storage and export are not being disputed, it seems the classification of waste is what lays at the root of this particular disagreement. Although landfill of tyres is illegal, since April 2010, the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 have allowed the use of up to 50 tonnes of tyre bales produced in accordance with PAS 108:2007 for use in construction under an exemption from licensing. PAS 108: 2007 is a Specification developed by the Waste Resources Action Programme in consultation with the British Standard Institute. It set out the minimum requirements for the production of tyre bales for use in construction projects. And it is the letter of this law that appears to have determined the verdict in this case.