‘Flagrant disregard for the law’: Mother and son sentenced for illegal waste offences

A mother and son have been given suspended jail sentences after their waste site in Huddersfield was found to be repeatedly breaching its environmental permit, with up to 1,383 tonnes of waste stored on site in “rotting and large steaming piles”.

On 6 September, Samuel Hunter, 31 and Jacinta Hunter, 59, who were director and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited, also known as Sam H Services Limited, were given a 24 and 12-month sentence respectively, suspended for two years. The pair were also ordered to undertake a total of 380 hours of unpaid work. 

The pair had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to charges of waste offences at a site in Queens Mill Road, Huddersfield. 

The court heard that in 2015 and 2016 several Environment Agency (EA) inspections revealed that the waste site was repeatedly in breach of its environmental permit. 

Inspectors found shredded waste stored between a roofed area of the site and a wall, when it should have been held in a building or bays, and “huge piles” of waste pushing against a perimeter fence which was broken in places. 

The EA ordered the waste to be removed and the fences be repaired, but return inspections found that no improvements had been made. 

Following continued breaches of the permit, and concerns over the waste falling through the fence and potentially polluting a river, two enforcement notices were issued. When advice had been given to make improvements, the court heard that Samuel Hunter was verbally abusive to officers on “more than one occasion”. 

A further visit found that the amount of waste being stored had “increased significantly, was rotting and being stored in large steaming piles”. 

An EA officer estimated that the waste on site totalled between 825 - 1,383 tonnes, with disposal of this quantity of waste at landfill estimated to cost between £98,880 - £165,912. 

On 18 August 2016 a fire broke out at the site with a large amount of runoff accumulating behind the premises of a nearby glass factory. West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service had previously advised Samuel Hunter that the site was a fire risk. 

The court heard that the runoff was a “major concern” as it was about to overflow into the river or flood a building where a glass company held “important” compressor machinery. 

To avoid this, the fire services deployed a small pump so the runoff would flow into the sewer network -  this meant the road was closed for the entire day on 19 August. 

On 25 August 2016, Kirklees Council brought machinery onto the site to dig into the waste pile and move the waste around on the site to help the fire service extinguish the fire. 

The fire was still smouldering on 30 August 2016 and it took Kirklees Council until March 2017 to remove all the waste from the site to reduce the risk of ongoing fires. The total amount paid by Kirklees Council for clearance of the site amounted to £1,142,131.

In mitigation, the defence said the Hunters were trying to act within the law and were not rogue operators. However, in sentencing, the judge said they were satisfied that both defendants had committed the offences deliberately with a “flagrant disregard for the law”.

At Leeds Crown Court Samuel Hunter was given a 24-month custodial sentence and ordered to undertake 300 hours of unpaid work, and Jacinta Hunter was given a custodial sentence of 12-months with 80 hours of unpaid work, both sentences were suspended for two years.

Ben Hocking, Yorkshire environment manager at the EA, said: “The seriousness of this sentence sends out a message that waste crime will not be tolerated.

“This case followed action from the Environment Agency with support from our colleagues at West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service and Kirklees Council. Despite repeatedly being warned, waste was still brought onto site causing a risk to the environment and contributing to a fire which affected the surrounding community and businesses, and left authorities with significant clear up costs.”

A timetable was set for Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings to deprive the defendants of any financial benefit arising from their offending, so there were no financial orders for costs against the defendants at this hearing.

It was not possible to contact the defendants for comment.