Illegal waste operators were sent a clear warning today (Wednesday) after prison sentences were handed down to two men who had operated a highly organised criminal illegal waste dumping operation.
Patrick Joseph Anderson, 51, of Ireland, and James Gerard Kelleher, 39, from Dagenham, pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to unlawfully deposit controlled waste on land. Anderson was sentenced to 22 months in prison and Kelleher was sentenced to 14 months in prison at Inner London Crown Court. Both will serve half of their sentence in jail with the remainder on licenced release.
Paul Leinster, Chief Executive at the Environment Agency, said: “Today's case is the culmination of one of the most intensive investigations carried out by the Environment Agency into the illegal disposal of construction and demolition waste.
“It sends out a strong and clear message to those who think they can profit from illegal waste dumping that the Environment Agency is watching and will take every step possible to protect the environment and bring offenders to justice.”
This case highlights many firsts for the Environment Agency including:
· the first conspiracy charge it has taken through to court – allowed the Environment Agency to secure a stronger conviction and highlights that the defendants went to great lengths to conceal their crimes,
· the first use of a European Arrest Warrant to bring back a defendant from abroad to face charges – it was used to bring Anderson back to face justice in the UK after having left for Ireland,
As a result of a three-year investigation codenamed 'Operation Huron', the Environment Agency found that between January 2003 and June 2004, Anderson and Kelleher masterminded an elaborate operation in London and Essex of illegally dumping over 14,600 tonnes of waste – equivalent to around 750 lorry loads – on at least 15 different sites.
The defendants created legitimate-appearing businesses, setting up a bank account using an assumed name, 'Michael Ryan', through which they laundered the money gained from their illegal waste activities. They used this name and others on official documentation such as vehicle ownership and insurance documents, and also registered mobile phone accounts in these names to divert attention away from themselves.
The pair had gone to some effort to set up the illegal disposal sites as legitimate construction activities – they wore reflective jackets, hard hats and carried surveying equipment. In some instances the sites displayed fake company logos and health and safety signs.
Many of the sites, which included both local authority and privately owned land, had been entered unlawfully. In some cases security chains had been cut to gain entry and the defendants then re-secured the sites with their own locks and chains to keep control of the sites. On one occasion the landowner had re-secured the site after the initial entry only for the same thing to happen again. Around £340,000 has been spent on cleaning up these sites – some of which was from the public purse as well as the private landowners.
The illegally dumped waste ranged from a few loads to thousands of tons. Earthmoving equipment was brought onto sites to level off the waste to increase capacity. On one occasion traffic was stopped during the rush hour on the A406 North Circular near Barking to allow a lorry to tip its load on a traffic island and make a speedy getaway.
Owen Bolton, a Senior Environmental Crime Officer at the Environment Agency who led the investigation, said: “In June 2004, following a lengthy surveillance operation, Environment Agency officers with the support of Essex Police raided a haulage depot and garage in Essex.
“This resulted in four 20-ton, eight-wheel, tipper trucks being seized and crushed as no one came forward to claim them. We also identified these vehicles as having been involved in a large number of illegal waste offences that had been reported in East and South East London over the previous 18 months.
“A cash book, which was also seized during the raid, provided invaluable information. It provided details of cash received, expenditure on vehicles used in the operations and so on. It also noted income and expenditure between 'Pat' and 'Jim' – two characters we were later able to identify as Kelleher and Anderson using a handwriting expert.
“Bit by bit working with crime analysts we were able to piece together the jigsaw, and link Anderson and Kelleher to illegal waste dumping at 15 different locations across London and Essex. We have evidence linking the pair to some other significant cases of illegal waste dumping in this region, but we do not have strong enough evidence to pursue them. Financial investigations we carried out revealed that the pair had made approximately of £1.2m from their activities, although not all of this would have been profit.”
The investigation involved collaboration between Environment Agency teams locally and nationally, along with external partners including the police both at home and abroad in Ireland, local authorities and other government departments like the Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office and DVLA.
Arwyn Jones, National Enforcement Service Manager, said: “This case highlights how organised criminals are involved in blighting our environment and how the Environment Agency is determined to tackle this kind of serious crime.
“A new National Environmental Crime Team is now up and running, using the latest sophisticated techniques to close down illegal waste operations. Surveillance work supported by forensics, handwriting experts and crime mapping are just some of the tools we now have in our kit to use alongside our legal powers, such as the ability to seize vehicles used in illegal activities, and powers to seek court orders to seize assets from such operations.
“So the message from the Environment Agency is clear – if you are thinking of getting involved in illegal waste activities – think again.”
Businesses and householders have a duty of care to ensure they hand their waste to an Environment Agency registered waste carrier. For more details and for more information about Environment Agency visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk.