The directors of a North Devon skip hire company have been found guilty of illegally burning and burying waste including asbestos at a site near Bideford.
The case was brought by the Environment Agency.
After a five day trial at Exeter Crown Court, Petra Bond and Julian Goddard of Auto Disposals and Bideford Skip Hire were convicted of a total of seven offences under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
A jury heard how in 2006, there were a series of fires at the firm's site which damaged a large asbestos-clad shed and pile of mixed waste. Bond, who was in control of the site at the time, instructed an employee to remove the asbestos from the building. He placed it in a number of skips, one of which was later legitimately removed by a waste disposal company.
Following the last fire, Bond is alleged to have told the same employee to get rid of the fire-damaged waste as quickly as possible to "cut costs". She instructed him to take it to an adjoining property, Goodleigh Cottage, excavate a hole and bury it in an area just behind a wall.
A second consignment of asbestos, stored on several pallets, was buried in a corner of the waste transfer station to allow a car park to be constructed. Once again, this was done on the instruction of Bond. It is estimated the damaged shed contained around 15 tonnes of bonded asbestos of which only 1.8 tonnes could be accounted for by Bond.
Witnesses including three former employees, told the court how later in 2007, Bideford Skip Hire supplied skips to a business premises in Torrington where sand was used to mop up a diesel spillage. The skips were later stored in a car park at Goodleigh Cottage where they started leaking diesel.
Bond told workers at the site to dig a hole and bury the diesel contaminated waste. When an employee asked why she wouldn’t dispose of it legitimately, Bond said it was “too expensive”. A couple of skips of mixed waste were also buried at the same time.
Also in 2007, Bond instructed site staff to move and bury a large pile of mixed waste within the waste transfer site. In early 2008, site operations were taken over by Purgamentum Waste Management, with both Bond and Goddard as directors of the company.
In May 2008, an Environment Agency officer visited the site and found an incinerator called an Air Curtain Burner being used. Goddard had been previously advised by an environment protection officer at Torridge District Council that it was an offence to operate this type of burner without a permit.
The officer instructed site workers to stop burning material. He saw that treated, painted and mixed wood was being burnt along with general mixed waste.
The court heard how the defendants had denied the Environment Agency access to the site on a number of occasions during the investigation and had been unhelpful and obstructive.
Eventually the Agency used its powers under the Section 108 of the Environment Act to enter the site. A magistrate’s warrant was issued and on 29 May 2008, a team of Agency officers gained access and carried out a full site investigation. Further excavations under a court warrant were undertaken in March 2009.
Large quantities of waste, including asbestos and mixed waste, were found exactly where former employees said it would be found. In one area, a liquid described as a ‘malodorous leachate’ was discovered as waste was being excavated.
A witness told the court he estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 tonnes of waste had been illegally buried at the site and in the grounds of a neighbouring property.
“The operators of this site deliberately chose to flout the law and dispose of hazardous waste in a highly illegal and irresponsible fashion. They were motivated by money and a desire to increase profits and save on costs. In behaving in this reckless manner they ignored the concerns of their employees and put human health and the environment at risk,” said Richard Cloke for the Environment Agency.
The case was adjourned for sentencing until early December 2010.