Last reviewed 3 December 2019
On 30 October 2019, Sunderland Magistrates Court fined Mr Clifford Shee £1,999 and ordered him to pay a victim surcharge of £120 and costs of £10,800 for operating an illegal waste site.
The Court heard that Mr Clifford Shee, aged 55, of Bright Street in Sunderland, ran a waste operation from a site on Durham Road, Birtley. The Environment Agency prosecuted him for operating outside the requirements of three exempt waste activities. He was found to have illegally stored mixed waste on site, which contained general waste and food stuffs; stored hazardous waste inappropriately and failed to keep accurate and correct details of waste transfer documentation between September 2017 and February 2018.
He was also prosecuted for failing to store 99 45-gallon drums, which contained polluting, hazardous and combustible waste, safely. This was particularly risky as the drums were located near a ditch which ran into Rowletch Burn, and which was also close to the main North to South railway line. While these drums were initially fly tipped onto his property, Mr Shee failed to take appropriate steps to remove them. He instead stored them for several years outside, without consideration of the spillage or fire risks to the environment or adjacent premises.
Mr Shee also ignored all of the advice given to him by the Environment Agency and deliberately continued to operate his waste company in breach of the permitting requirements.
Mr Shee pleaded guilty to breaching the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 regulation 38(1)(a), namely for operating a regulated facility except under, and to the extent authorised by, an environmental permit. He also pleaded guilty to the Environmental Protection 1990 section 33 (1)(c), for keeping waste in a manner that is likely to cause pollution or harm to human health and sections 34(5) and (6), failing to include certain specified information on waste transfer documentation. He was fined £1,999, comprising of £1,230 for the first charge and £769 for the second. He was further ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £120 and costs of £10,800, resulting in a total of £12,919.
In mitigation, the defence told the magistrates that Mr Shee had gaps in his knowledge regarding the operation of the site and was keen to undertake training. He had also intended to remove some of the waste from the site but had been unable to do so because one of his vehicles had a faulty clutch. The magistrates were also told that because the 99 drums of waste had been fly-tipped on Mr Shee’s land, he had not known what to do with them.
However, during sentencing the magistrates felt that Mr Shee had deliberated operated the facility without a permit, telling him that “you knew what you did was wrong and you did it for a long period of time”, and pointed out that he had “disregarded advice given”. In relation to the storage drums, the magistrates described Mr Shee’s behaviour as “unbelievable”, calling his failure to take any steps to deal with them as “reckless at the very least”.
After the case, area environment manager for the Environment Agency, Jamie Fletcher, said:
“Our role as regulator aims to help protect the public, residents and the environment from situations that may potentially cause serious harm. In the case of Mr Shee, he continuously ignored the advice from the Agency, and ran a waste company that was in breach of environmental rules that are in place for a reason to help protect people.
The Birtley site contained almost a hundred hazardous storage drums, and if they were to leak or be set alight could’ve caused serious damage or health implications to local residents or the environment.
The successful prosecution and level of fine shows how the Environment Agency is always looking to clamp down on unlawful activities and will seek to bring to justice those individuals and businesses who aim to bend the rules.”
Exemptions on waste permits are a popular form of light touch regulation. There are nearly 500,000 exemptions registered with the regulators across more than 100,000 sites in England and Wales. However, as this cases highlights, there is a growing concern that the system is open to abuse. as evidence suggests that some operators are carrying out illegal waste activities at exempt sites. In response to the Government’s consultation earlier this year, industry, trade groups and regulators highlighted several exemptions which had a high possibility of being used to hide illegal activity, such as stockpiling large amounts of undocumented or unsuitable waste to avoid various landfill taxes. It is due to these concerns, and cases like this, that the Government is currently considering how the exemption system might be reformed, including considering whether exemptions should be adapted or potentially removed.
Until those reforms come in, waste operators should continue to be mindful of their exempted activities and take action when potential breaches occur, even when they arise from the illegal actions of others.