Little used laws catch Cornish sewage dumper

A tanker operator who repeatedly dumped septic tank and cattle wastes onto two fields in Cornwall has escaped with a light fine after pleading poverty before Truro magistrates. The prosecution was unusual in that it relied on little used rules on the disposal of such wastes to agricultural land.

The dumping operation by Carlyon (Waste Disposal Tankers) was initially detected last July by an officer of the National Rivers Authority (NRA) who noticed that part of a field near Truro was covered with septic tank contents.

The matter was reported to Cornwall waste regulation authority (WRA), which found that sewage had been discharged into the field at ten separate points from a hedge. Several large pools of raw sewage were lying against the hedge, and no attempt had been made to spread them or incorporate the material into the soil. The field was in grass and contained grazing sheep and cattle, and is crossed by a public footpath.

Shortly afterwards, a member of the public notified the WRA that he had spotted a tanker discharging sewage into an adjacent field. Although a WRA officer was on the scene within 20 minutes the tanker had by then departed, but seven days later the defendant, Kenneth Carlyon, was apprehended carrying out a similar operation.

Mr Carlyon claimed that the material being discharged had originated from a cattle market, but analyses by the NRA revealed that it contained a tracer spore which had been introduced into the cesspit of a local restaurant in order to pin-point the source of a suspected sewage leak. Faced with this evidence, the defendant admitted under caution that several cattle waste and sewage deposits had been made by him.

Four charges were brought against Mr Carlyon. Three were made under section 33(1)(c) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which makes it an offence to dispose of controlled waste "in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health."

In bringing these charges, the WRA first had to establish that the septic tank sludge deposited on the fields was in fact a "controlled waste". To do so it resorted to a little used provision in the Controlled Waste Regulations 1992 which stipulates that such material is not to be treated as a controlled waste if it is used in accordance with the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989. The key provision of the latter in this case was a requirement that a person must not supply untreated septic tank sludge for use on agricultural land "if he knows or has reason to believe" that it will not be injected into the soil by the occupier. The ownership of the two fields in question is unknown.

The fourth charge, under section 3(1) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, was that Mr Carlyon had disposed of cattle waste onto land for which a disposal licence was not in force. Although in principle such waste may be disposed of on agricultural land without a licence, the WRA argued that under the Collection and Disposal of Waste Regulations 1988 such deposits must be subject to prior notification if that exemption is to be available.

At a hearing before Truro magistrates on 21 February, Mr Carlyon pleaded guilty to all four offences. But the court said in sentencing that his financial circumstances should be taken into consideration, and while fining him £500 on one charge imposed no further penalty in respect of the other three offences. The defendant was also ordered to pay £500 towards prosecution costs of £1,200.

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