On 14 January 2019, Cambridge Magistrates’ Court ordered Winters Haulage Limited to pay £510,000 in fines and costs, and its director Liam Patrick Winters to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work under a 12-month community order following illegal waste storage.

The facts

The Court heard that Liam Winters, aged 41, was responsible for Winters Haulage Limited, a waste management company which was based at Hunting Gate, Hitchen. At this site, the company operated under an environmental permit. In 2014 and 2015, Winters Haulage Limited also used a site next to Royston Sewage Treatment Works on the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border, which did not have the necessary legal permits.

The Environment Agency visited the site and told the company to clear it. Some waste was taken to a Biffa landfill site, while other waste was taken to the company’s Hitchin site. However, the necessary waste transfer notes were either absent or incorrect.

It was subsequently discovered that the company had stored thousands of tonnes of baled combustible waste, known as refuse derived fuel (RDF), at Royston. RDF is residual waste that is often used as a fuel and can contain plastics, cloth, materials, and treated and untreated wood, which is commonly baled using plastic wrapping and can degrade during periods of storage. This carries the risks of fire or polluting liquid leaching out. While there was no evidence of groundwater contamination yet, the Court was told that there would be a time delay while contaminants travelled to the groundwater so there was “a possibility of harm in the future”.

The EA served a statutory notice on the company requiring the site to be cleared in four months, however the company failed to comply.

In addition, and following received information, EA officers also visited a racehorse training site at King’s Ride, near Therfield. They found six long rows of green-wrapped bales in a field, estimated to be 450 bales. As some were ripped, their contents were revealed as mixed waste. The officers advised the occupier and Winters Haulage to remove the waste and the company later produced waste transfer notes stating that it had been taken to the company’s Hitchin site. Those notes stated that 60% was RDF, 30% was card and paper and 10% plastic. However, the Court heard that “the waste was mixed waste and there were no bales found that contained separate waste”. Further discrepancies in waste transfer notes, the use of number plate recognition equipment to track lorry movements of waste and officer observations led to the conclusion that the company was acting illegally.

Winters told investigating officers that while there had been several clerical errors in the waste transfer notes, he had not been aware of them. He said that there was no fire risk and that he did not know he needed a permit for the Royston site. However, the company continued to move bales from the Royston site without transfer notes after that conversation.

When the Royston site was finally cleared, the level of the land appeared higher; in some places by up to 1.5 metres. Following the ground’s excavation, buried waste was found, with landfill gas (hydrogen sulphide) also present in some areas. The Court heard that “burial of waste would never have been permitted” at this site, as it is above a sensitive chalk aquifer where landfilled waste requires a specific permit. That permit authorises waste within strict standards to ensure environmental protection. The chalk bedrock had, however, been excavated by up to 3.1 metres. Winters told officers that no waste had been deliberately buried, but that some bales split which may have been accidentally buried, particularly as the ground had been re-profiled to allow access due to poor weather conditions.

The Decision

Winter Haulage and Liam Winters pleaded guilty to:

  • Operating a regulated facility without an environmental permit granted under Regulation 13 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Contrary to Regulation 12(1)(a), 38(1)(a) and 41(1)(a) and (b) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

  • Depositing controlled waste, namely baled RDF waste, without an environmental permit granted under Regulation 13 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, contrary to sections 33(1)(a), 33(6) and 157(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

  • Failing to comply with the duty of care imposed by s.34 (1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 by failing to take such measures as were reasonable in the circumstances on the transfer of such waste, including providing a written description of the waste in accordance with s.34(1)(c)(ii) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Regulation 35 of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

In addition, Liam Winters pleaded guilty that the failure was due to his consent, connivance or neglect as a director of Winters Haulage Limited contrary to s.34(1)(c)(ii), (5) (6) and 157(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

District Judge Ken Sheraton said that company director Liam Patrick Winters was “certainly reckless” and ordered him to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work as part of a 12-month community order. He was also ordered to pay £8850 in costs. The Judge added that Winters Haulage’s actions were deliberate and noted that the company had no systems in place to prevent the offences. He ordered the company to pay £510,000, which included the £450,000 which was saved or avoided by committing the offences and £30,000 costs.

In mitigation, the Court heard that in early 2014, Seneca Environmental Solutions Ltd which runs an RDF production facility in Wembley, indicated that it could offer Winters Haulage a service to deal with its baled waste for transfer to Europe. However, they were unable to take the round bales which were produced at the Hitchin site. Winters used the Royston site to store the waste as a temporary measure until the RDF contract “kicked in”. The Court was told that “Mr Winters never intended to undermine the statutory regime” and that “it was never his instruction to bury the waste”.

The Court was told that the site had not yet been remediated and it was estimated to cost the landowner, Anglian Water Group, £1.9 million to clean the site. Cambridge Fire and Rescue Service assessed a risk of fire at the site and a plan was drawn up due to the risk of dense acrid fumes from a fire posing a threat to public safety. That plan involved 11 public organisations as the site was within 2.5km of schools, nurseries, sheltered accommodation, children’s homes, care and residential homes — all of which could have been at risk.

After the hearing, EA team leader Phil Henderson said:

Illegally stockpiling thousands of tonnes of waste in this manner has potentially devastating impacts on the environment, communities and transport infrastructure.

This case highlights the growing problems being faced with waste across the country and the result in court today should reassure the public that the Environment Agency is committed to bringing waste criminals to justice.

Comment

The case shows a catalogue of errors headed up by the company director due to his passive role. The Court was unimpressed by his assertions that he was waiting for additional measures to “kick in”, while being blind to both the clerical errors and where the waste was actually deposited. While most waste managers know the importance of the correct environmental permit, the case highlights the importance of proactively managing waste production and movement, even in the absence of a specific pollution incident.

Last reviewed 12 March 2019