The bosses of a skip hire company responsible for creating a "waste mountain" have been ordered to hand over £234,393 after admitting waste offences.
Easy Skips (NE) Limited and Andrew Benson and Kevin Brough, two of the company’s directors at the time of the offences, were today (19 August) sentenced at Teesside Crown Court for controlled waste offences and their assets confiscated.
The confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act is the second-highest ever achieved in an Environment Agency case.
Since November 2007, under Proceeds of Crime the Environment Agency, and partners, has confiscated more than £1.5 million from waste criminals and is currently investigating a number of cases worth more than £25 million in total.
Today at Teesside Crown Court, His Honour Judge Anthony Briggs ordered Andrew Benson and Kevin Brough to pay £124,393 and £110,000 respectively under the Proceeds of Crime Act within 12 months or face three years in prison. Each man received a conditional discharge for two years.
The order followed the conviction of Benson, 41, of Coniscliffe Road, Hartlepool, and Brough, 46, of Parklands Way, Hartlepool, at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court on 29 November 2007.
Easy Skips (NE) Limited, Benson and Brough were convicted after pleading guilty to offences relating to the operation of a site on Casebourne Road in the town, which was used as a waste transfer station. Sentencing was adjourned until today to be dealt with at the same time as a proceeds of crime hearing.
The court heard that Easy Skips (NE) Limited knowingly permitted large amounts of controlled waste to be deposited at the site, which did not have a waste management licence or registered exemption, so no waste should have been there. Benson and Brough, as directors, allowed this to happen.
Environment Agency officers visited the site in September and November 2006 and saw large piles of bricks, rubble and concrete, mixed with plastics and wood, as well as a large pile of wood and two skips full of waste. They warned Benson and Brough the operation needed a waste management licence.
When officers returned in February 2007 the waste pile was even larger – three metres high, 12 metres wide and 18 metres long. The waste pile contained concrete, breeze blocks, wood, plastic, window frames, plastic sheets, mattresses, plasterboard, scrap metal, green waste and soil.
By June 2007 the pile was so large it was spilling through the broken boundary fence out onto the pavement and posed a risk of harm to human health. In some places the path was completely covered by waste.
Environment officers believed that any further increase in waste would result in it encroaching onto the road and also were concerned that movement on site by heavy machinery could throw waste into the air.
Lee Fish, prosecuting counsel for the Environment Agency, told the court the waste operation was clearly on a commercial scale and an aggravating feature was that no efforts had been made to clear waste from the site "which continues to be stored there illegally".
The Environment Agency in Yorkshire and the North East has worked in partnership with the North East RART (Regional Asset Recovery Team) to secure the successful confiscation of £234,393.
RART investigated to what extent Benson and Brough benefited from their activities. Using the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, it asked the court to confiscate assets equal to the value of the benefit gained.
The company was given no separate penalty but was ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £9,121.87 because Judge Briggs said it should "not escape unscathed".
The judge said the way the business was run was to the detriment of legitimate competitors and the public and, after viewing photographs of the waste mountain, he described the site as "a complete and utter mess".
In mitigation, the court heard the defendants had pleaded guilty and had no previous convictions for environmental offences.
Speaking after the case, Environment Agency environment manager Julian Carrington said: "We are delighted with today’s result.
"Over many months Easy Skips (NE) Limited and their directors Andrew Benson and Kevin Brough undercut legitimate businesses by deliberately flouting waste management rules designed to protect the environment and the public.
"Many of their customers were misled to believe they had paid good money for their waste to be disposed of properly, at a licensed site. Instead, the waste has simply been dumped to become an unsightly mountain of waste on an illegal site, that spilled out onto footpaths creating a hazard to the public.
"Now the proceeds of crime hearing has concluded we are looking at what action can be taken to clear the site."
DCI Steve Waite, head of the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team said: "The Environment Agency enlisted the services of the North East RART at an early stage to ensure that the maximum use was made of the powers available under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
"This is a prime example of what can be achieved from partnership working. The common goal was to ensure that those who have benefited their criminal conduct have their assets stripped away from them."