Wiltshire scrapyard boss must pay £2m or face long prison stretch
The owner and director of Wiltshere-based Melksham Metal Recycling has been ordered to pay back almost £2 million made from running an illegal waste site or face prison.
Lee Hazel appeared in Swindon Crown Court in July and was warned that he would be handed an eight-year prison sentence unless he paid back the full amount owed under a confiscation order made under the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002.
The original confiscation order was set at £2.74 million but this was later reduced to £1.99 million at Swindon Crown Court under a legal clause known as the ‘Slip Rule’, with Hazel’s lawyers successfully arguing to Judge Tim Mousley QC that it was inappropriate to include a figure for VAT when calculating how much Hazel had profited from the crime, going on to allege that the EA had also mistakenly included invoices for ferrous metals in its calculations.
The ruling by the court marked the end of a five-year investigation by Wiltshire Police and the Environment Agency (EA) into Lee Hazel and Melksham Metals Recycling Ltd, set in motion after an enforcement officer from Wiltshire Council was sent to investigate reports of illegal waste dumping in August 2011.
Discovering that Hazel and his company had been dumping chalky stone off-cuts, tarmac road planings, concrete pipes and sludge at Queenfield Farm next to the disused Wiltshire to Berkshire Canal, as well as carrying out unauthorised activities at its Station Yard premises in Melksham, Hazel was initially handed an 18-month prison sentence in February 2016, suspended for two years.
Hazel and his company were found guilty of four charges relating to the illegal dumping of waste in 2014, and pleaded guilty to a further five charges relating to unauthorised waste activities at its Station Road site at the 2015 hearing, where Melksham Metals Recycling Ltd was ordered to pay £100 for each of the seven offences to which it pleaded guilty. These fines were nominal in size given the size of the confiscation order.
While the company had a contract to remove waste stone from a local stonemasons, this waste should have been disposed of at a licenced site, but was instead dumped at Queenfield Farm. Hazel had been warned on several occasions to desist in his company’s illegal dumping of waste on farmland and its illegal activities at its scrapyard.
The EA confirmed that Melksham Metals’ has since had its operating license revoked and its principal site had been closed down.
Commenting on the ruling of Swindon Crown Court, an EA spokesperson said: “These were serious offences committed by a waste operator who has little respect for the law and the environment. He was motivated by financial gain and carried out unauthorised activities over a number of years. This case should serve as a warning to anyone in the waste industry who thinks they can flout the law. Where we have the evidence, we won’t hesitate to prosecute offenders.”
Waste crime remains a thorn in the side
Waste crime exerts tremendous financial and time pressures on the waste industry and taxpayer, with over £600 million lost every year dealing with the consequences and clean-up costs brought by illegal activity in the sector.
In order to combat this thorn in the side of the waste industry, the EA recently announced that it had partnered with the Environmental Services Association (ESA) in a bid to take steps to raise standards within the sector and fight back against waste crime.
Following discussions between the EA’s senior management and the CEOs of a number of resource and waste management companies, the two organisations agreed to pool resources and focus on key challenges such as waste fires, poor performing sites and waste criminals.
Taking a collaborative approach, a number of specific proposals will now be worked out between the two bodies, including introducing a system of earned recognition for site performance and taking tougher actions against those who pass their waste on to illegal operators in contravention of their obligations under the Duty of Care.