On 27 April 2000, Environment Agency officers visited Severn Waste Services' Beacon Waste civic amenity site at Bonemill in Stourport on a routine inspection. They found that there were no permanent company staff on site, and that it was being supervised by a man hired through a local employment agency.
The worker had not been interviewed for the job before he started and had no experience in the safe handling of waste or of working at such sites. He was given instructions and contact numbers but, says the Agency, was left alone at the site except for a short visit from a manager.
Severn said that it had had to suspend five regular staff from the site the previous day. The employment agency which usually supplied staff was unable to do so, sending an untrained worker instead.
The Agency pointed out that the member of staff would have been unable to comply with the waste management licence, including conditions which described the accepted waste types and quantities, as well as their methods of disposal. Besides general household waste, the site is licensed to accept household chemicals, materials containing asbestos, batteries and used gas cylinders.
Although conditions at the site were generally good and there was no evidence of environmental damage, the Agency emphasised that an inexperienced member of staff would have been unable to control an accident had one occurred.
Appearing before Redditch magistrates on 11 September, Severn was found guilty of four offences. Three related to breaches of conditions in the site licence, contrary to section 33(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 - namely that the terms of the licence were not made known to the person responsible for the site, the site was not manned by a technically competent person, and site staff were not supplied with the necessary equipment and training.
The fourth offence, contrary to section 33(1)(c) of the 1990 Act, was for keeping controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health.
The company was fined £15,000 for each charge and was ordered to pay £3,804 costs.
Severn's Phil Sharratt told ENDS that, if the company had shut the site, fly-tipping in front of the gates would probably have occurred very rapidly. He added that the company was reviewing its practices in light of the case.
Agency officers visited the company's Manor Farm landfill at North Baddesley in January after it received reports that unauthorised waste was being deposited. The landfill is licensed to receive inert waste and construction and demolition waste. The licence specifically excludes food, vegetables and other rapidly biodegrading waste.
The officers found that waste in the landfill included black bag waste, paper, cardboard, packaging, plastic and wood. They also witnessed one load containing non-permitted waste being deposited.
Further investigation revealed that much of the waste had come from kerbside refuse collections from local authorities in the local area, but also from the Thames region and London, including Westminster. The Agency is unable to say how much of this type of waste was tipped at the site but told ENDS that "over the years" the site has been the subject of complaints over deposits of non-permitted wastes.
The company said that subcontracted drivers had delivered the loads to Manor Farm by mistake, rather than to a nearby site licensed to accept such wastes.
A routine inspection in March found that waste from the previous day had been left exposed rather than covered with topsoil.
Onyx said that heavy rain had meant that tipping on the previous day had taken longer than expected. Covering the waste with topsoil would have required employees working outside the hours specified by other licence conditions.
However, it acknowledged that the foreman had not questioned the employees or visited the tipping area and had subsequently received a written warning.