Suspended jail sentences for mother and son following waste offences at fire site

A son and mother responsible for illegal waste activity at a site in Huddersfield, which then caught light in 2016 causing significant risk to the environment, have been sentenced.

Samuel Hunter, 31 of Dewsbury, and Jacinta Hunter, aged 59 also of Dewsbury, were given a 24-month custodial sentence, and 12-month sentence respectively, suspended for two years.

Samuel Hunter must undertake 300 hours of unpaid work, the maximum number of hours a court can order. Jacinta Hunter must undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.

The two defendants, who were director and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Ltd also known as Sam H Services Limited, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to charges of waste offences at a site in Queens Mill Road, Huddersfield, and were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on Wednesday 6 September.

The company had premises at Scotland Yard, Queens Mill Road, Huddersfield, and held an environmental permit from the Environment Agency, which has conditions in place to ensure waste activity does not impact on the environment.

Following inspections by the Environment Agency in 2015 and 2016, the site was found to be repeatedly in breach of its permit, as huge piles of waste were found pushing against a perimeter fence which was broken in places.

Shredded waste was stored between a roofed area of the site and a wall, when it should have been in a building or held in bays.

The Environment Agency ordered the waste be moved and the fences repaired, but return inspections found no improvements made.

Following continued permit breaches, and concerns over waste falling through the fence and potentially polluting a river, two enforcement notices were issued.

When advice had been given to make improvements, Samuel Hunter was verbally abusive to officers on more than one occasion.

Environment Agency officers were concerned rubbish including wood, rubble and scrap metal including a gas bottle was hanging over the wall against the damaged fencing towards the river.

In one place where the boundary fence was completely missing, some waste had fallen into the river.

A further visit found waste being stored had increased significantly, was rotting and being stored in large steaming piles.

West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service attended and advised Samuel Hunter that the site was a fire risk and that he needed to introduce fire breaks between the waste piles.

An Environment Agency officer estimated the volume of waste on site to be between 825 and 1383 tonnes.

Disposal of this quantity of waste at landfill would cost between £98,880 – £165,912. The amount charged by the company for accepting the waste onto site was estimated to be £120 per tonne. In June 2016 another individual began running the company and site.

The court then heard how on 18 August 2016 a fire broke out at the site and a large amount of runoff had accumulated behind the premises of a nearby glass factory from the firefighting activities.

This was a major concern as it was about to overflow into the river or flood the building where the glass company had important compressor machinery.

To avoid this, West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service deployed a pump to move this runoff onto the access road so it would flow into the sewer network, which meant the road was closed for the entire day on 19 August 2016.

On 25 August 2016 Kirklees Council took the decision to bring machinery onto site to dig into the waste pile and move the waste around on the site to help the fire service extinguish the fire.

The fire was still smouldering on 30 August 2016. It took Kirklees Council till March 2017 to remove all the waste from the site to reduce the risk of ongoing fires. The total amount paid by Kirklees Council for clearance of the site amounted to £1,142,131.

In mitigation, the defence said the Hunters were trying to act within the law and were not rogue operators.

Jacinta Hunter said she hadn’t been given enough time to meet the deadlines to rectify issues at the site. Samuel Hunter maintained he had done everything he could.

Ben Hocking, Yorkshire Environment Manager at the Environment Agency said: “The seriousness of this sentence sends out a message that waste crime will not be tolerated.

“This case followed action from the Environment Agency with support from our colleagues at West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service and Kirklees Council.

“Despite repeatedly being warned, waste was still brought onto site causing a risk to the environment and contributing to a fire which affected the surrounding community and businesses, and left authorities with significant clear up costs.

“Waste criminals undercut legitimate business, damage our environment, and are a blight on local communities.”