A father and two sons accused of owning and operating an illegal waste site in Little Downham were sentenced to prison by Cambridge Crown Court today (Fri 30 Sept).
John Smith and sons David and George Loveridge pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to running the illegal scrap metal yard at Cophall Farm in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment or harm to human health.
They admitted five offences of breaching the Environmental Protection Act and Environmental Permitting Regulations.
David Loveridge, aged 50, of Plains Lane, Littleport, Ely was sentenced to prison for 15months on each of the five charges to run concurrently; George Loveridge (alias George Smith), aged 45, of Ely Road, Stretham, Ely was sentenced to 9 months on each of the five charges to run concurrently; and John Smith, aged 78, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and put on a curfew between 9pm and 6am for three months,
The two-acre farm is owned by John Smith, who lives there, and he and his sons ran the operation.
The farm was raided by Environment Agency officers with the assistance of Cambridgeshire police on 25 March 2009. All three men were arrested.
A directions hearing is listed for 8 December to determine whether proceeds of crime from the offending should be confiscated from the defendants.
The court was told that the three had made almost £330,000 from selling scrap metal and saved about £640,000 by not making the site suitable for their business.
The site was raided after meetings and letters had failed to get the three men to stop running the illegal scrap yard, the court was told.
Chris Badger, prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, said Cophall Farm is connected to the trading names Pymoor (Pymore) Skip Hire, AB Scrap Metal Dealers and A-B Cars Wanted, which had all advertised in the local press for scrap vehicles.
These were collected, paid for and then dismantled at the farm before the scrap metal was sold, he said. Oils and other contaminants from the vehicles were not collected resulting in significant pollution.
During the raid officers found more than 100 waste vehicles being stored and dismantled. There were no working surfaces or areas set up to capture spills as oils and other fluids were drained from old vehicles. There was no equipment to clean up any spills and lead acid batteries were scattered on the ground.
Soil samples later showed the ground was contaminated with copper, lead and zinc and there was severe contamination of mineral oil and diesel, both classified as hazardous.
The site was not secure, Mr Badger told the court.
"This was an extremely profitable, financially motivated and wholly illegal operation in which all three of these defendants had a role.
"These defendants have operated on a large scale for a significant period of time with scant regard to the environment," he said.
He said the site had been used as an illegal waste site for a number of years and the three men had previous convictions for similar operations there. The Environment Agency had tried to work with them to stop the illegal activity.
"However, despite numerous meetings and letters between July 2006 and January 2008, no meaningful progress was made in stopping the continuing illegal activity at the Cophall Farm site," said Mr Badger.
All the defendants told investigators that they did not consider the vehicles to be waste as they were recycling them.
David Loveridge had three previous convictions and John Smith had two for similar offences related to illegal operation of a scrapyard at Cophall Farm.
After the hearing Environment Agency Senior Investigation Manager, Dafydd Williams said: "The Environment Agency wants to make sure serious waste crime doesn’t pay. We have specialist crime teams to catch criminals and confiscate the assets they’ve gained from crime.
"This site had clearly been in operation over a number of years and despite several previous enforcement actions, the family continued to run the site illegally, which not only has the potential to harm the environment but also impacts on legitimate operators in the waste industry.
"The Environment Agency is actively targetting those who profit from the illegal waste business and damage the environment and will use all necessary powers at our disposal to end this trade. Throughout this investigation we have worked closely with Cambridgeshire Police."
East Cambs Police Sector Commander Robin Sissons added: "I am pleased that we have been able to support our colleagues in the Environment Agency in their protracted and determined undertaking to address what I regard as serious crime.
"East Cambs is relatively low-crime, and normally in the lowest 15% in the British Crime Survey for anti-social behaviour, but living and working in a rural area brings its own challenges. Police have accompanied Environment Agency staff to support their investigations, and worked with them to ensure that court bail conditions to restrict the illegal activities have been complied with.
"I hope this outcome sends out a message that police, environmental, and other enforcement agencies will work together to tackle all breaches of the law."