Former teacher Liam Winters, and his brother Mark Winters, had a permit to treat and store a small amount of soil waste at Codicote Quarry in Stevenage.
In 2017, Environment Agency (EA) officers first questioned them about the amount of waste the quarry was holding, and with the support of Hertfordshire County Council “countless on-site checks followed to get the operators to comply with the law”.
But, according to the EA, waste piles on the site “grew and began to decompose”, with the brothers also burying waste, sometimes up to 12 metres deep, under a layer of chalk. The quarry was not set up for landfill.
The suspect material was predominantly household, commercial and industrial waste, but it also contained electrical items, car parts, furniture, food packaging, wood and metal. In total, at least 200,000 cubic metres of banned and potentially harmful material was found. The EA said this is enough waste to fill the Royal Albert Hall nearly three times over.
The illegal disposal means the site will need monitoring for “many years” to minimise risk of polluting chalk stream the river Mimram and groundwater sources as the quarry was not set up for landfill, the EA said in a statement.
At two separate hearings in February this year, the brothers admitted to four identical charges amounting to allowing or being involved in accepting and storing waste at the quarry between January 2015 and November 2017. This was either outside the conditions of the site’s EA’s permit, or with no permit at all. They were also charged for ignoring the suspension notice to stop operations.
The EA prosecuted the pair under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Liam Winters was handed a 17-month prison term by St Albans Crown Court and Mark Winters, with links to the Republic of Ireland, was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years. The court also banned the brothers from being company directors for eight years and Mark Winters will also have to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
At a hearing on 20 October, it was decided that any award of costs or a confiscation order against the men and Codicote Quarry Ltd will be considered at a later date.
The EA said the men “showed a flagrant disregard for the law and the effect of their business on the environment”.
Liam Winters’ prison sentence also relates to illegal waste storage at two more locations in Hertfordshire. At one site at Anstey Quarry, near Royston, waste reached 20 metres into the sky, as high as five buses on top of each other, and material at Nuthampstead shooting ground was hidden under a landscaped area.
Barry Russell, environment manager for the Environment Agency in Hertfordshire, said: “We hope that prison for Liam Winters and a suspended term for Mark Winters sends out a strong message that we will prosecute waste site operators who do not follow the rules for disposal.
“The operation of an illegal waste site without regard for the environment and the law has the potential to harm our natural resources, blight communities and undermine the legitimate businesses who do stick to the law. Our role is to protect the environment for people and wildlife, so we won’t hesitate to act against those who put either at risk. To anyone flouting the rules, our message is clear: you won’t get away with it.”
However, the extent of financial punishment has sparked a debate online, with Jane Brindle, technical advisor at waste-recycling company Leo Group Ltd, stating: “For the time it was going on for and the amounts of waste described, the financial penalty doesn't look to be anywhere near the potential fines for permit non-compliance”.
Dan W, associate hydrogeologist at AtkinsRéalis, said that given the “ongoing management that will be required for years to come to monitor, assess and remediate the waste”, the punishment handed down is “not enough to deter others”.
“It is all too easy to judge the regulator for time taken to suspend a permit from initial suspicions of waste crime when our efforts would be best served by demanding of the government why the regulator is mis managed by successive secretaries of state with zero understanding of what the regulator does; is so chronically underfunded; has so few resources and has barely any teeth left with which to bite.”