A repeat environmental offender received a 32 month sentence in Reading Crown Court today (Friday 10th October) on charges of illegally depositing and disposing controlled waste in contravention of a Waste Management Licence. He was also ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.
Harvey Stuart Gibson pleaded guilty to the charges brought by the Environment Agency under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Mr Gibson, an undischarged bankrupt, also pleaded guilty to managing a company whilst disqualified by a court order, contrary to the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
The two-year, multi-agency investigation, codenamed 'Operation Sentinel' focused on offences occurring between 2004-2006, at several sites.
Mr Gibson, who has a string of previous convictions, masterminded the well-organised, large-scale illegal transfer of waste. It was collected from businesses across north London and the Home Counties via his waste transfer business in Watford to a disused quarry in Tidmarsh in Berkshire and a field in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire. Waste was then burned or buried, coupled with an illegal quarrying operation at Tidmarsh and, it is believed, similar activity in Buckinghamshire.
Investigators entered both sites with diggers uncovering evidence of large-scale burning. At Tidmarsh they found large quantities of commercial waste buried in pits. Environment Agency officers traced much of the waste back to the producers, including a significant proportion from a major shopping centre in Watford. Eighty-five tonnes of waste was removed from the site in the following months and is still ongoing.
The court heard that Environment Agency's Groundwater Quality Technical Specialist, Jenny Thomas, assessed the potential effect of the deposited waste material on groundwater quality underneath the Tidmarsh site. This location was of particular concern to the Environment Agency because it is the source for a public water supply at Pangbourne. It also supplies a number of private boreholes adjacent to the site.
After studying the evidence and using her own knowledge of the local hydrogeology of the area, Ms Thomas concluded that there was potential for dangerous substances (such as ammonia), derived from the materials deposited at the site, to enter the groundwater.
“Controlled waste has to be stored and disposed of properly in order to reduce the risk of contamination and pollution to the environment” she said.
“Once a contaminant has entered the groundwater, the consequences for the communities' water supplies and local river flora and fauna can be extremely serious.”
“Chalk underlies the site and it is a highly complex aquifer through which water and contaminants can travel very rapidly. The effects can be long-lasting. Once it has become contaminated, chalk groundwater is virtually impossible to clean up.”
Mr Gibson managed to operate on a large scale using the resources of the company he was managing at the time, GD Massey & Sons Ltd. This was despite his previous convictions and a six month jail sentence for managing a company whilst being disqualified by a court from doing so. Until he took over the management, this company had been a legitimate, licensed waste management facility in Watford.
Evidence was submitted to the court that while operating his business as GD Massey & Sons Ltd, Mr Gibson knowingly and repeatedly stored and burned large quantities of controlled waste at the Watford site, in direct contravention of its Waste Management Licence.
In collaboration with officers from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), Mr Gibson was charged with offences contrary to the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The company, GD Massey & Sons Ltd, is now in liquidation.
Environment Agency officer Rod Gould, who coordinated the investigation, was in court today to hear the judgement. “Today's decision by the court is the culmination of a four-year effort to ensure Mr Gibson is held accountable for his crimes” he said.
“This case demonstrates the Environment Agency's absolute determination to tackle the big, bad and nasty end of environmental crime, and that no one is above the law or untouchable.
“Harvey Gibson was a serious, well-organised, career criminal who made environmental crime his professional business, with no regard for current or future generations.”
Mr Gould praised the professional and committed approach taken by lawyers and investigators from different government agencies that allowed the full extent of Mr Gibson's illegality to be put before the courts.
“This has been a long and complicated case, requiring a multi-agency approach. The hard work, dedication, patience and co-operative spirit from all the officers involved has been absolutely integral in achieving today's result,” he said.
“Mr Gibson systematically used the companies he managed, to commit widespread environmental and corporate offences over a prolonged period and a wide area.
“These crimes were committed for pure financial gain, undermining legitimate business and with absolutely no regard for the public, despite full knowledge of the risks of burning waste and burying it on top of an aquifer which supplies public drinking water.”