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Samuel Hunter has been given a 24-month custodial sentence and must also perform 300 hours of unpaid work, which is the maximum number of hours that any court can order. His mother, Jacinta Hunter, has received a 12-month suspended sentence for two years, and she must undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.
At a previous hearing, the director and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited, also known as Sam H Services Limited, pleaded guilty to waste offences. They were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on September 6. Both defendants accepted that they had kept waste in a way that could cause pollution or harm to human health, posing a fire risk. The company operated from premises at Scotland Yard on Queens Mill Road. Huddersfield and held an environmental permit from the Environment Agency, which has conditions in place to ensure any waste activity does not adversely impact the environment.
Following site inspections conducted by officers from the Environment Agency in 2015 and 2016, the site was found to be repeatedly in breach of its permit. Huge piles of waste were found pushing against a perimeter fence, which was broken in places. Shredded waste was found between the site's roofed area and a wall when it should have been stored in a building or otherwise held in bays.
Despite the orders from the Environment Agency to remove the waste and fix the fences, no action was taken, as inspections later confirmed.
After repeated violations of the permit and concerns about the waste spilling out of the fence and contaminating a nearby river, two enforcement notices were served. When officers advised Samuel Hunter to improve the situation, he was verbally aggressive on multiple occasions.
The Environment Agency’s officers were concerned over rubbish including wood, rubble and scrap metal (and a gas bottle 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. As such, there was a pollution risk.
A subsequent visit revealed a significant increase in the amount of waste stored, which had begun to decompose.
Officers from the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service advised Samuel Hunter to introduce fire breaks between waste piles due to the fire risk.
According to an Environment Agency officer, there were approximately 825 to 1,383 tonnes of waste on-site. If this amount of waste were to be disposed of at a landfill, it would cost between £98,880 and £165,912. The company charged £120 per tonne to accept the waste at the site.
In June 2016, the company and site came under new management. On August 18th, 2016, a fire broke out at the site. As a result of the firefighting activities, a significant amount of run-off had accumulated behind the premises of a nearby glass factory.
On August 19, 2016, a major concern arose regarding the overflow of water into the river or the flooding of a building containing crucial compressor machinery owned by a glass company. To prevent this, the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service team used a small pump to redirect the run-off water to the access road. This allowed it to flow into the sewer network, leading to the closure of the road for the entire day.
On August 25, 2016, Kirklees Council decided to bring machinery to the site to dig into the waste pile and move the waste around on the site to help the Fire and Rescue Service extinguish the fire.
On August 30th, 2016, there was still a smouldering fire at a site. It took Kirklees Council until March 2017 to completely remove all the waste from the site. Finally, this helped reduce the risk of any ongoing fires. Kirklees Council had to pay a total of £1,142,131 for the clearance of the site.
“Flagrant disregard for the law”
In sentencing, the judge found both defendants guilty of deliberately committing the offences with a flagrant disregard for the law. He described their actions as a financial decision.
Jacinta Hunter had been following the lead of Samuel Hunter, who was the controlling mind behind Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited. The judge expressed his disapproval of Samuel Hunter's behaviour towards the officers of the Environment Agency. Samuel had been foul and abusive towards them, and the judge felt that he should be ashamed of his actions.
During the legal proceedings, the defence team argued that the Hunters acted within the law and were not rogue operators. Jacinta Hunter stated that she was not given sufficient time to meet the deadlines to rectify issues at the site, while Samuel Hunter maintained that he had done everything in his power.
No tolerance for waste crime
Ben Hocking, environment manager for Yorkshire at The Environment Agency, explained: “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 the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and Kirklees Council. Despite repeatedly being warned, waste was still brought to the site, in turn posing a risk to the environment and contributing towards a fire which affected the surrounding community and businesses and left the authorities with significant clearing up costs.”
A timetable has been set for Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings to deprive the defendants of any financial benefit arising from their offence. As such, no financial orders for costs were imposed on the defendants at this hearing.
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05 September 2023