It is the longest sentence ever handed down for waste crime in the UK and follows one of the most complex investigations of its kind.
Hugh O’Donnell and his accomplices laundered millions of pounds in profit through a massive illegal waste site near Reading.
A three year investigation by the Environment Agency ended in 2009 when environmental crime officers alongside police arrested O’Donnell and two accomplices.
The judge commended the Environment Agency for presenting an overwhelming case for conviction against a criminal operation that “was large scale and highly organised”.
With the assistance of Thames Valley Police, the Environment Agency raided an illegal waste site in October 2008, which spread over land the size of five football pitches at Aldermaston, near Reading in West Berkshire. They seized an unlicensed handgun and ammunition, other weapons, stolen vehicles, plant equipment and over £50,000 in cash.
O’Donnell, aged 64 and from Reading, was subsequently imprisoned in 2009 for four and a half years for possession of the illegal firearm, which was recovered following an Environment Agency search.
As he was being released from prison last week, O’Donnell was coincidentally sentenced by Isleworth Crown Court today to a further four years in prison for money-laundering and 22 months for waste offences. The sentences are to be served concurrently.
His accomplices Robert Evans, 59, and Peter Lavelle, 28, also both from Reading, received two years and 18 months respectively for money-laundering, and 14 months and 12 months respectively for waste offences – all to be served concurrently.
O’Donnell, who had previously been jailed for six months for waste offences and subsequently for the non-payment of fines, used accomplices Lavelle and Evans to set-up and run the day-to-day operations of a string of phoney businesses – while trying to avoid detection by using aliases and intimidation.
The Environment Agency’s regional and national Environmental Crime Teams used forensic techniques such as DNA and handwriting analysis, smartwater tracking, fingerprinting, mobile phone and laptop interrogation to track members of the gang.
Activity on the site stopped in late 2008 after the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of O’Donnell for possession of the illegal firearm. The land had been ranked as the southeast’s highest risk and highest priority illegal waste site.
Joint-working with the London Regional Asset Recovery Team [RART] helped identify how the proceeds of these criminal activities were acquired and then laundered through the various trading names or aliases used by O’Donnell and his associates.
Restraint orders, preventing the disposal of more than £1m worth of assets, have also been in place for the last two years.
The investigation also involved Thames Valley Police and often included other Agencies such RART, VOSA and the Traffic Commissioner, West Berkshire Council, Forensic Science Service and Hampshire Police.
Judge Edmunds QC said: “This was deliberate, calculated offending on an industrial scale.. for profit. You carried on in the teeth of attempts to stop you, and with the clear intention of making as much criminal profit as you could before you were stopped.”
Environment Agency principal solicitor Angus Innes said: “O’Donnell’s illegal waste business netted millions of pounds in profit by taking skips or lorry loads of construction and demolition waste into the Aldermaston site to be dumped in an illegal landfill.
“This investigation has been one of the biggest and most complex ever undertaken by the Environment Agency, using intelligence and forensic science to proactively target an organised criminal gang running an illegal waste site.”
“Waste crime puts the environment and human health at risk and undermines legitimate waste businesses. This sentence sends out a message that waste crime is a serious offence and you can and will be sent to jail.”
Given the huge size of the landfill, in 2009 the Environment Agency undertook a comprehensive assessment for potential contamination. This showed that the landfill compromised more than 65,000 tonnes of contaminated construction waste.
Judge Edmunds QC said: “There were many persons from whom the waste originated who paid a commercial rate for the disposal and believed it was being disposed of responsibly.”
Mr Innes said: “Businesses producing waste – such as those in the construction and demolition industry – need to take extra care to ensure their waste is not being dumped illegally at sites like this one”.