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Waste mountain leads to conviction in court

A man was found guilty of three charges last Friday, 18 April 2008, at Surrey Crown Court, relating to the mismanagement of waste on Swift Lane, Surrey.

After a seven day trial, Thomas Lee, of 15, Swift Lane Caravan Park, Bagshot, Surrey, was convicted of three offences against section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (“EPA 1990”). His Honour Judge Critchlow sentenced Lee to six months imprisonment on each charge to be served concurrently, suspended on the proviso of good behaviour over the next two years. Lee was also required to pay £10,000 towards the costs of the Environment Agency and subjected to a night time curfew for one month, banning him from leaving his home between the hours of 10pm and 7am.

The convictions were brought following a major investigation by the Environment Agency, with Lee accused of bringing a mountain of construction and demolition waste that has buried grasslands and engulfed woodland into the Bagshot area. Earlier in 2007, truck drivers and operators were convicted at Woking Magistrates Court of offences at the same site.

Environment Agency officers revealed that the waste pile – which rises to almost 30 feet in height in places – is in excess of 24,000 cu metres (equivalent to 1,600 twenty-ton truck loads). The massive quantity of waste has caused the pile to slip and spill into the Windle Brook, diverting the river and altering the flood plain. This has also resulted in the closure of a public footpath and it is estimated the clean up and removal of the waste could cost as much as two million pounds.

After a seven day trial, Lee, who also owns industrial units in Swift Lane, was found guilty of knowingly causing a bund to be deposited onto lands owned by the Surrey County Council and by a private trust. In addition, charges of knowingly causing waste to be kept on those lands between 1 January 2006 and 13 November 2006, with no waste management licence for that land were also brought.

Last year, six people were convicted of offences relating to the same site, with two truck drivers, two companies, one broker and an operations manager being found guilty of illegal activity and fined a total of £8,300 as well as repaying £3,396 in costs to the Environment Agency.

The prosecutions team leader of Thames Region of the Environment Agency, Angus Innes, said: “Commendation is due to the lead investigators and lawyer who undertook the very substantial burden of bringing this matter to a successful conclusion. It cost ourselves, and colleagues in the local authorities, a great deal of money and resources to pursue the matter. We commit these resources because this site represents a pattern of criminal behaviour that we see replicated around London – and it is a pattern that has serious environmental consequences.

“Neither Mr Lee, nor any of the other persons convicted of the above offences, were convicted of responsibility for the organisation of the whole illegal waste operation clearly took place on this site. However, can't have the equivalent of 1,600 twenty-ton truck loads of waste illegally deposited, unless there is a significant group of transporters who are prepared to do so without checking who owns the land on which the waste is being tipped – or whether the land is licensed to receive it. You also have to have a significant group of building contractors who are not asking questions as to where their waste is going. The motive of the illegal waste transporters is greed. It is getting rid of waste without paying the proper costs. However, it does not just get rid of it. Somebody has to pay for its removal. It is not a victimless crime.”

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