£2 million Devon Environment Agency case ends with fine of just £1,000
A tyre recycling company has been fined just £1,000 at the end of one of the Britain’s biggest environmental trials.
The huge case brought by the Environment Agency lasted eight weeks and cost an estimated £2 million but resulted in one firm being fined and one of its directors receiving a conditional discharge.
The Judge who presided over the showpiece trial at Exeter Crown Court again criticised the Environment Agency for the way in which it prosecuted the case, in which all the most serious charges were thrown out by the jury last year.
The bosses of a Devon-based waste company had been accused of masterminding a scam in which they buried waste tyres at riding centres and stables around the region.
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They claimed it was a legitimate effort at recycling and that the square bales made up of 100 tyres each, were ideally suited to be used in providing undersoil drainage at equestrian sites.
The father of top British rider Lucy Wiegersma was among those accused of having broken environmental rules by using the bales at their riding centre at Warren Farm, Highampton, North Devon.
Hendrik Wiegersma, aged 62, was cleared of illegal dumping by the jury and awarded costs and Judge Phillip Wassall criticised the Agency for bringing the case against him.
The only convictions were for technical offences and were against the tyre bale company Recycled Constructions Systems, one of its directors Tom Dunn, and a transport company Aardvark.
RCS, of Greendale, near Woodbury, were found guilty of running an unlicenced waste site at the Westerhope Unit in Dunkeswell, near Honiton, where 96,000 baled tyres were left unused.
They were fined £1,000 with £26,244 costs.
Tom Dunn, aged 26, of Cutsey, Taunton, was found guilty of illegally exporting tyres to Vietnam. He was conditionally discharged and ordered to pay £5,500 costs.
The judge ordered that he should have his £8,000 contribution to legal aid refunded.
Mr Dunn is a top amateur showjumper who used his connections in the horse riding world to find potential customers for the tyre bales amongst the equestrian community.
Aardvark were found guilty of allowing tyres to spill out of a container when it was parked temporarily at Haldon Hill. They received an absolute discharge and no order for costs.
International eventer Nick Gauntlett, who has admitted allowing tyre bales to be deposited at his riding centre at Chescombe Farm, near Gloucester, without the necessary licence, will be sentenced later.
Judge Wassall said the site at Dunkeswell had been used for the illegal storage of tyre bales by RCS.
He said:”The regulations are in place for good reason this matter had to be investigated by the Environment Agency. I have criticised the way they approached this case in a number of areas but they were entitled to and should have investigated this aspect.
“I have said enough already about where it went from there. The company have been convicted of a serious offence which needs to be dealt with by a financial penalty.
“The case against Aardvark should never have been brought. The problem was rectified at the time and there were no long term effects on the environment. The tyres were there by reason of accident and it is hard to see why it was prosecuted.
“When looking at the other issues in the case it seemed rather petty and so I make and absolute discharge and no order for costs.”
The judge was highly critical of the Environment Agency at the close of the jury trial last year.
At that time he said:”One thing has been clear in this case. The law has completely lacked transparency. The cost benefits of bringing cases like this should be considered in these days of really, really tight strictures on public spending.
“This trial has cost a fortune; a great deal of public money and should be examined very carefully before the Crown launch any other long trials. They should look backwards at how we got here.
“I think more care needs to be taken with cases like this were massive amounts of public money are being spent.”