On September 6, a mother and her son were given suspended sentences at Leeds Crown Court for 'deliberate' and ongoing fire safety risks at a waste site in Huddersfield.

The unlawful waste activity was initially uncovered by the Environment Agency (EA) during site checks in 2015 and 2016. The directors and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited (also known as Sam H Services Limited), Samuel Hunter and his mother Jacinta Hunter, were found to have repeatedly violated the terms of their environmental licence. 

According to the Environmental Agency, they found large amounts of waste piled up against a perimeter fence, which had been damaged in several places. They also discovered shredded waste being stored outdoors, between a roofed area and a wall. The EA explained that the shredded waste should have been stored in a building or in designated bays.

The company was ordered to move the waste and repair the fences, but these improvements were not carried out, resulting in the issue of two enforcement notices:

“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,” the EA reported.

The West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service (WYFRS) inspected the site in addition to the EA visits and issued a warning about the fire hazards and the requirement to add fire breaks between the rubbish piles. Between 825 and 1,383 metric tonnes of waste were thought to be on the property at the time.

When a fire on the property resulted in a significant volume of runoff gathering behind a nearby glass plant in August 2016, serious concerns were once again raised. WYFRS employed a small pump to move the runoff into the sewage network so it wouldn't overflow into the river or flood the building.

In order for firefighters to combat persistent hotspots, Kirklees Council brought in machinery to shift the waste piles throughout the site. At an estimated cost of more than £1 million, the council had, by March 2017, removed all the garbage (about 8,000 metric tonnes) from the site to lower the danger of recurrent fires.

Both Samuel and Jacinta pleaded guilty to the charges of waste offences. They were each given a 24-month custodial sentence and a 12-month sentence suspended for two years. 

Samuel was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work, while Jacinta was given 80 hours of unpaid work.

During the sentencing, the judge was “satisfied both defendants had committed the offences deliberately with a flagrant disregard for the law”, adding that it was a “financial decision”.

Yorkshire Environment Manager at the EA, Ben Hocking said: "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.”

Councillor Andrew Cooper responded to the news by saying: “I hope the Proceeds of Crime unit of the Crown Prosecution Service is successful at recovering assets from Sam and Jacinta Hunter and that they have not successfully hidden or disposed of assets. The £1.1million it has cost the Council to remove the huge pile of illegal waste they created, was money that could have been spent on vital local services such as supporting adult social care or children with disabilities. It is important that the public know what assets have been seized and their value.”

The announcement that the "long-standing" case had been resolved was welcomed by Kirklees Councillor Cathy Scot, acting council leader:

The clean-up of the 8,000-tonne mountain of waste back in 2017 required a multi-agency approach and proved costly to Kirklees taxpayers, so we are pleased to see those responsible receiving justice.

We supported the Environment Agency’s prosecution with both evidence and witness statements and, whilst the EA are the prosecuting party, we are hoping to recoup whatever costs we are able under the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

View the SOURCE here.

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