A mother and her son whose waste site burned for weeks and cost over £1m to clear have been spared jail sentences.
The huge August 2016 blaze at the waste site in Lockwood, Huddersfield, caused a risk to the environment and led to Kirklees Council having to pay over £1m in clean-up costs. Samuel and Jacinta Hunter ignored warnings about the fire risk at the site in Queens Mill Road site, the Environment Agency said.
Samuel Hunter, 31, and Jacinta Hunter, 59, both of Boothroyd Lane, Dewsbury, were given suspended prison sentences and told to carry out unpaid work. The pair were director and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited also known as Sam H Services Limited. They pleaded guilty to waste offences at the site.
They accepted they had kept waste which posed a fire risk in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health. The company had premises at Scotland Yard, Queens Mill Road, Huddersfield, and held an environmental permit from the Environment Agency, which has conditions in place to ensure any waste activity did not impact on the environment.
Following site inspections by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2015 and 2016, the site was found to be repeatedly in breach of its permit, as ‘huge piles of waste’ were found pushing against a perimeter fence which was broken in places, the EA said. Shredded waste was found stored between a roofed area of the site and a wall, when it should have been in a building or held in bays.
The Environment Agency ordered the waste be moved and the fences repaired, but return inspections found that no improvements had been made.
Following continued breaches of the permit, and concerns over the waste falling through the fence and potentially polluting a river, two enforcement notices were issued. When advice had been given to make improvements, Samuel Hunter was verbally abusive to officers on more than one occasion.
Environment Agency officers were concerned that rubbish including wood, rubble and scrap metal including a gas bottle was hanging over the wall against the damaged fencing towards the river. In one place where the boundary fence was completely missing, some waste had fallen into the river, so was at risk of causing pollution.
A further visit found waste being stored had increased significantly, was rotting and being stored in ‘large steaming piles’, the EA said.
Cost of waste removal
West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service attended the site and advised Samuel Hunter that the site was a fire risk and that he needed to introduce fire breaks between the waste piles.
An Environment Agency officer estimated the volume of waste on site to be between 825 and 1,383 tonnes. Disposal of this quantity of waste at landfill would cost between £98,880 and £165,912.
The amount charged by the company for accepting the waste onto site was estimated to be £120 per tonne. In June 2016 another individual began running the company and site.
Leeds Crown Court heard how on August 18 2016 a fire broke out at the site and a large amount of run-off water had accumulated behind the premises of a nearby glass factory from the firefighting activities.
This was a major concern as it was about to overflow into the river or flood the building where the glass company had important compressor machinery. To avoid this, West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service used a small pump to move this runoff onto the access road so it would flow into the sewer network, which meant the road was closed for the entire day on August 19 016.
On August 25 2016 Kirklees Council took the decision to bring machinery onto site to dig into the waste pile and move the waste around on the site to help the fire service extinguish the fire. It continued to burn for weeks.
It took Kirklees Council till March 2017 to remove all the waste from the site to reduce the risk of ongoing fires. The total amount paid by Kirklees Council for clearance of the site amounted to £1,142,131.
‘Foul and abusive’ behaviour
In sentencing, the Judge was satisfied both defendants had committed the offences deliberately with a flagrant disregard for the law which he described as a financial decision. Jacinta Hunter had followed Samuel Hunter’s lead as he was the controlling mind of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited. He said Samuel Hunter should be ashamed of his behaviour when he described his interactions with Environment Agency officers to whom he had been foul and abusive.
In mitigation, the defence said the Hunters were trying to act within the law and were not rogue operators. Jacinta Hunter said she hadn’t been given enough time to meet the deadlines to rectify issues at the site. Samuel Hunter maintained he had done everything he could.
Ben Hocking, Yorkshire Environment Manager at the Environment Agency said: “The seriousness of this sentence sends out a message that waste crime will not be tolerated.
“This case followed action from the Environment Agency with support from our colleagues at West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service and Kirklees Council. Despite repeatedly being warned, waste was still brought onto site causing a risk to the environment and contributing to a fire which affected the surrounding community and businesses, and left authorities with significant clear up costs.
“Waste criminals undercut legitimate business, damage our environment, and are a blight on local communities. We encourage people to report any illegal waste activity to our 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 807060.”
An EA spokesman said a timetable was set for Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings to deprive the defendants of any financial benefit arising from their offending, so there were no financial orders for costs against the defendants at this hearing.
Samuel Hunter was given a 24-month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, while his mother was given a 12-month jail sentence, also suspended for two years. Mr Hunter was ordered to undertake 300 hours of unpaid work, while Ms Hunter was ordered to undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.
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