A man has received a custodial sentence for running an illegal waste site that went up in flames 2 days before the deadline to clear it.
The site at Thoby Priory in Brentwood, Essex burned for 2 months creating thick choking smoke.
Chelmsford Crown Court today (Wednesday 18 May) sentenced Joshua John O’Malley, aged 26 to 15 months in prison suspended for 2 years after he earlier pleaded guilty to running the illegal site. He was also disqualified as a director for 10 years. O Malley was not ordered to pay any prosecution costs due to his financial situation.
As sole director of Creative Developments and Construction Limited, a company no longer operating, O Malley stacked the site so full of waste wood that there was barely room for vehicles to manoeuvre, said Ms Wendy Foster, prosecuting for the Environment Agency.
She told the court that Agency officers and Fire Service officers had repeatedly visited the site in the three months between it opening in May and the fire in August.
A statutory notice was served on the company by the Environment Agency on 25 July requiring the wood to be removed by 20 August and evidence to be provided proving that it had been disposed of legitimately. On 18 August the site went on fire.
O Malley s company had registered six exemptions to operate the unit at Thoby Priory and advertised for waste wood when it opened. None of the exemptions allowed for the level of operation that followed, said Ms Foster, and despite advice and guidance from an officer, the company continued to take waste wood that was not suitable.
One of the exemptions that allows chipping, shredding, cutting and pulverising of certain wood waste was deregistered by the Agency on 10 June.
Ms Foster told the court: The smoke from the fire was thick and choking. The fire service used local ponds and a crane to fight the fire and water had to be taken from local lakes and ponds.
Because of the risk to rivers the fire service had to deal with the incident with a controlled burn which took in excess of two months.
Costs to the Environment Agency for its part in controlling the pollution were more than £223,000.
Ms Foster told the court that managing the fire had major resource implications for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, the Environment Agency, Brentwood Borough Council and neighbouring landowners. Firewater had to be collected, stored, treated and/or disposed of some escaped into the environment killing about 2,500 fish.
Ms Foster told magistrates: On 1 July the site was full of waste wood and MDF. Waste covered 85 per cent of the yard and was up to 15 metres high. The following day guidance on reducing fire risk at sites storing combustible materials was given to the site and O Malley. The Fire Service had already given guidance two weeks earlier and stated their intention to audit the site for fire safety.
When the fire service went to the site to conduct the audit none of the staff on site had sufficient knowledge or position of responsibility to answer the questions. O Malley told investigators he was probably too busy to attend the audit.
An expert report from the Fire Service stated that it had not been possible to limit the spread of the fire or create a fire break as there was one large single stack of wood. He said prevention of fire did not appear to have been considered in line with guidance that had been given.
O Malley, of Vale Court, Wheathampstead, St Albans, told investigating officers that he thought the Environment Agency had made too many demands on the business and was trying to shut it down. He said he had a chipper on site and could sell the shredded wood.
He told them that he became aware of the fire when someone contacted him and neither he nor his employees have returned to the site since.
O Malley told officers he would give the Agency a hand clearing the site once it had stopped burning. At his expense, if it has to be, said Ms Foster.
In sentencing, Judge Morgan told O Malley This was a deliberate and flagrant disregard of the law. You were aware from notices and visits what the law entailed and your responsibilities. The harm was very significant indeed. He said O Malley may well have started the business legitimately to earn money but within a short period of time he had collected and stored wood when he was aware of the real risk and hazard to the environment and human health The court also took into account that O Malley had no previous convictions and had demonstrated a degree of remorse.
After the hearing Environment Agency officer Darren Smith said: The company was paid to take the waste, filled the site with it and then abandoned the site. The company and director made a significant profit from their operations. We will always do our best to track down, stop from operating and prosecute those responsible who try to carry out similar operations as we have already done so elsewhere in Essex.
Joshua John O Malley
1. Between 7 May 2014 and 16 October 2014 at Unit 3 Thoby Priory, Brentwood Essex CM15 0TB, Creative Developments and Construction Ltd, with your consent or connivance or attributable to neglect on your part as a director of Creative Developments and Construction Ltd, did operate a regulated facility, namely a waste operation for the deposit, storage and treatment of waste, without being authorised by an environmental permit granted under Regulation 13 of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.
Contrary to Regulation 12(1)(a), 38(1)(a) and 41(1)(a) and (b) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010
2. Between 7 May 2014 and 16 October 2014 at Unit 3 Thoby Priory, Brentwood Essex CM15 0TB, Creative Developments and Construction Ltd, with your consent or connivance or attributable to neglect on your part as a director of Creative Developments and Construction Ltd, did treat, keep or dispose of controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health.
Contrary to section 33(1)(c), 33(6) and 157(1) Environmental Protection Act 1990