Stuart Allen, a rogue waste operator, has received a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £20,000 costs for running an illegal waste cooking oil storage and processing plant in the Dorset countryside. The case was brought by the Environment Agency.
At a sentencing hearing at Taunton Crown Court on Friday (15 July), Judge David Ticehurst warned Allen he would be sent to prison if he appeared before him again.
At a previous magistrates court hearing, Allen pleaded guilty to two offences of keeping controlled waste at Keepers Paddock, Middlemarsh, Sherborne in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm human health and failing to comply with seven anti-pollution notices.
Waste oil was being kept at the site in an ‘ad hoc and haphazard fashion’. This resulted in neighbouring properties and a stream being polluted. When two of his neighbours complained, Allen threatened them with violence.
The Agency was first alerted in November 2014 after neighbours started finding cooking oil in their drains and in a pond. There were also complaints about oils on the highway. Dye tracing showed the pollution was coming from a ditch bordering Keepers Paddock. The Caundle Brook, downstream of the pond, was also polluted.
In January 2015, Agency officers armed with a magistrates warrant and accompanied by police, visited the site and found Allen was operating an illegal waste transfer station. It was estimated approximately 60,000 litres of mixed oils and food products were being stored at Keepers Paddock. Some of the materials were contaminated with plastics, wood and human wastes.
No attempt had been made to contain or safely store the oils that were stockpiled on pallets and on bare unmade ground. Spillages simply soaked into bare earth. Waste oil was also stored on a roadside verge outside Keepers Paddock posing obvious risks to road users travelling along the A352 between Dorchester and Sherborne.
Further checks revealed the site was also being used for the illegal production of bio diesel fuel. There were no environmental permits or exemptions in place to allow the defendant to carry out any of the activities witnessed by Agency officers including the illegal deposit, storage and processing of waste vegetable oil.
In 2015, Stuart Allen was served with a series of Anti-Pollution Works Notices by the Environment Agency which required him to clear the site of waste oil by a certain deadline. None of the notices were complied with.
When questioned, Allen said he’d taken over the running of the business from his aging father. He collected approximately three tonnes of waste oils a week from catering businesses across Dorset, South Somerset and East Devon. He didn’t consider cooking oils to be harmful. Spillages were dealt with by ‘scraping it up.’
The Agency worked closely with West Dorset District Council in a major clean-up operation at Keepers Paddock. The work involved the removal of a large quantity of waste oil, contaminated soils and oil-related materials, in difficult ground conditions and bad weather.
The final cost of the clean-up could be as high as £50,000. West Dorset District Council had already spent £20,000 and might launch civil proceedings against Allen to recover this money. The Environment Agency had also incurred £29,500 in investigation and legal costs.
“In addition to polluting soil and watercourses, illegal waste sites spoil the countryside by creating an eyesore and harm the local economy by undercutting legitimate waste businesses. The flammability and other potentially hazardous characteristics of waste oils also present a risk of fire and explosions,” said an Environment Agency spokesperson.
“This case is an excellent example of partnership working between the Agency, the police, West Dorset District Council, HM Revenue and Customs and Dorset Council’s highways and social services departments. The defendant was operating illegally from this and a previous site for over 10 years and made no attempt to comply with anti-pollution notices or act on the advice and guidance he was given. We were left with no choice, but to prosecute,” added the spokesperson.
Cllr Ian Gardner, West Dorset District Council Planning Portfolio Holder said, “One of our key priorities as a council is protecting and enhancing the built and natural environment we live in. As a council we take enforcement very seriously and I hope that the outcome of this case will serve as a warning to others.”
Appearing at Taunton Crown Court, Allen, was given a four month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid community work and made the subject of a Criminal Behaviour Order prohibiting him from operating a waste oil or any other waste business for 10 years. The order was also issued to prevent him causing his two immediate neighbours any further ‘alarm, harassment or distress’.
Judge Ticehurst concluded, “You behaved recklessly rather than deliberately flouting the law and chose to continue running the business despite receiving regular advice and guidance from the Environment Agency. You should have stopped when you were told to, but you didn’t. I must warn you, if you come before this court again I will send you to prison.”