Last reviewed 24 March 2020

On 17 January 2020, Northampton Crown Court fined company Synergy Tyres (Midland) Ltd £11,250 and sentenced its two directors to a suspended prison sentence and community order respectively, for stockpiling waste tyres in excess of their environmental permit.

The facts

The Court heard that Andrew Eyre, 50, of Wootton, Northampton and John Mullen, 59, of Milton Keynes, were joint directors of company IN4 Ltd until February 2017, when Eyre retired and left Mullen as the sole director. Under conditions of their permit, the company was allowed to keep 84 tonnes of tyres on their Brackmills Industrial Estate site, Northampton.

When Environment Agency inspectors visited in March 2017, they found more than 1300 tonnes of tyres stored, without any actions to prevent fire. The Court heard that as they were stored in huge piles with no fire breaks, the tyres posed a serious fire risk to homes less than 10 metres away. By April, the site had been entirely filled with tyres and was abandoned.

Eyre then set up a second company, Synergy Tyres, at the Broad March Industrial Estate in Daventry, where he continued to stockpile tyres. He operated for 4 months without a permit, until April 2017 when Environment Agency officers discovered more than 120 tonnes of tyres.

In May 2017, Eyre then applied for exemptions to process up to 40 tonnes of tyres a week without an environmental permit, as long as the site adhered to certain conditions and safety measures. Within a month, he had already amassed more than twice that limit. According to documents later provided to the Environment Agency, the site was regularly moving up to 225 tonnes of tyres.

The Court was told that even though the company was given advice, guidance and support to bring it in line with the law, over the next 6 months Eyre continued to ignore it. In March 2018, the company’s exemptions were voided and the company effectively lost its permission to operate.

Decision

His Honour Judge Rupert Mayo ordered the company to pay a fine of £11,250 and sentenced Eyre to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and to perform 150 hours of unpaid work. Mullen was made subject to a 6-month community order with a requirement that he complete 15 days of rehabilitation activities. An enquiry into the Proceeds of Crime in the case has been adjourned to 6 July 2020.

During sentencing, the Judge heard that the pair’s actions could have seriously polluted the environment and risked people’s homes, health and lives. He was also told that during interview, Mullen admitted he knew about the concerns over how his company was operating but did nothing to resolve them because he hoped it would “sort itself out”. Judge Mayo was also told that Eyre had claimed that he did not understand the permitting rules, however the Court was told that he had been formally cautioned in connection with two other sites in the past. He commented that, in sentencing Synergy Tyres (Midland) Ltd and its director Eyre, there had been “a deliberate and flagrant breach in the face of warnings given”.

After sentencing, Rebecca Staff, Environment Officer at the Environment Agency, said:

“It’s very clear that the mismanagement of these sites was no innocent mistake — rather, laws were broken and legitimate businesses undercut simply for the sake of profit.

“These businesses deliberately ignored rules meant to make sure that waste sites are run safely.

“Most worrying of all, people and the environment were put at serious risk.

“Lives could have been lost if a fire had broken out at either site, as one was mere metres away from homes and the other was connected to industrial units.

“We hope this case sends a message loud and clear — we won’t hesitate to take action against those who put profit above their environmental responsibilities.”

The Environment Agency also reminded individuals that everyone has a responsibility to check that they are using legitimate companies to deal with their waste on the Environment Agency public register.

Comment

The case comes one day after the launch of a new taskforce dedicated to tackling serious and organised waste crime, such as dumping hazardous materials on private land and falsely labelling waste so it can be exported abroad to unsuspecting countries.

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) will include law enforcement agencies from across the UK, including the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the police, HMRC and the National Crime Agency.

It was set up following a recommendation in the independent review into serious and organised crime in the waste sector, commissioning by the Home Office in 2018. That review found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and modern slavery.

To tackle the growing trend in criminal waste networks, the new unit will conduct site inspections, make arrests and prosecutions and, upon conviction, push for heavy fines and custodial sentences. They will also share their intelligence and resources to take swifter action when investigating criminal waste operations and other connected illegal activities.

Toby Willison, Chair of the JUWC Board, said:

“The war against waste crime just took a giant step forward. The launch of this new unit means we now have a full complement of partners across law enforcement as well as our counterparts in Scotland and Wales to bring down waste criminals for good.

“We will target serious and organised criminals across the country as they try to illegally exploit the waste industry and the environment. These criminal gangs need to know that we have them in our sights.”

Welcoming the new unit, then-Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said:

“Waste crime is a scourge on our environment and this new Joint Unit for Waste Crime will crack down on the criminals responsible.

“Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action. The Joint Unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation.”

Serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600 million a year. Since 2015, six legislative changes have been made to enable the Environment Agency to take tougher action against waste criminals. This includes the Agency having the power to restrict access to problem waste sites by locking gates and barring access. Environment Agency waste crime budgets have also risen by £60 million for 2014–22. This Unit is the latest tool in the fight against waste crime.