Operator banned from waste management after decade of illegal waste oil trade
Stuart Allen, who took over the running of the site from his father, collected approximately three tonnes of waste oil from catering businesses across Dorset, South Somerset and East Devon every week, and stored them at a site at Keepers Paddock, Middlemarsh, Sherborne.
Taunton Crown Court heard last week that when two of Allen’s neighbours complained about the ‘ad hoc and haphazard’ storage of waste oil polluting a nearby stream, he responded by threatening them with violence.
The Environment Agency (EA) was first made aware of the illegal site in November 2014, when neighbours reported finding cooking oil in their drains and in a pond. There were also complaints of oil being found on the highway. After the initial reports were made to the EA, dye tracing was used to identify the source of the pollution as a ditch bordering Keepers Paddock. The Caundle Brook, downstream of the pond, was also found to be polluted.
‘Illegal waste sites spoil the countryside’
Having obtained a magistrate warrant, EA officers visited Keepers Paddock in January 2015, where the officers, accompanied by the police, found that Allen was operating an illegal waste transfer station and was holding approximately 60,000 litres of mixed oils and food product. Some of the materials were contaminated with plastics, wood and human waste.
The investigation found that Allen had made no attempt to safely store the oils that were stockpiled on pallets and bare unmade ground, with spillages being left to soak into the earth. Waste oil was also being stored on a roadside verge outside Keepers Paddock, posing a threat to road users on the main road between Dorchester and Sherborne.
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “In addition to polluting soil and watercourses, illegal waste sites spoil the countryside by creating an eyesore and harm the local economy by undercutting legitimate waste businesses. The flammability and other potentially hazardous characteristics of waste oils also present a risk of fire and explosions.”
Major clean-up operation
In 2015, following the initial investigation, Allen was served with a series of Anti-Pollution Works Notices by the EA. These required Allen to clear the site of waste oil by a certain deadline, however none of the notices were complied with.
During questioning Allen stated that he didn’t consider cooking oils to be harmful and that he dealt with spillages by ‘scraping it up’.
An EA spokesperson said: “This case is an excellent example of partnership working between the Environment Agency, the police, West Dorset District Council, HM Revenue and Customs and Dorset Council’s highways and social services departments. The defendant was operating illegally from this and a previous site for over 10 years and made no attempt to comply with anti-pollution notices or act on the advice and guidance he was given. We were left with no choice, but to prosecute.”
Outcome should ‘serve as a warning to others’
The EA estimates that the total cost of the clean up could be as much as £50,000. West Dorset Council has already spent £20,000 and is considering launching civil proceedings against Allen to recover these costs. The EA also incurred costs of £29,500 through investigation and legal proceedings.
When brought before the court on Friday (15 July), Allen was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work and to pay £20,000 costs.
He was also made the subject of a Criminal Behaviour Order prohibiting him from operating any form of waste business for 10 years. As well as to protect the surrounding environment and human health, the order was also issued to prevent him causing his two immediate neighbours further ‘alarm, harassment or distress’.
Judge David Ticehurst concluded: “You behaved recklessly rather than deliberately flouting the law and chose to continue running the business despite receiving regular advice and guidance from the Environment Agency. You should have stopped when you were told to, but you didn’t. I must warn you, if you come before this court again I will send you to prison.”
Cllr Ian Gardner, West Dorset District Council Planning Portfolio Holder, commented on the charges brought against Allen: “One of our key priorities as a council is protecting and enhancing the built and natural environment we live in. As a council we take enforcement very seriously and I hope that the outcome of this case will serve as a warning to others.”