A mother and son whose illegal waste tip burned for weeks and cost Kirklees taxpayers over £1.1 million in clean-up costs have escaped jail sentences.
Sam Hunter, 31, and his mother Jacinta Hunter, 59, were responsible for the waste site in Queens Mill Road, Lockwood, known locally as Hunter’s tip, which went up in flames in 2016 causing disruption to homes and businesses.
At Leeds Crown Court this week, Sam Hunter was given a 24-month jail term suspended for two years while his mother was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
Sam Hunter was ordered to complete 300 hours of unpaid work, the maximum number of hours a court can order, while his mother must undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.
The two defendants, who were director and manager of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited, also known as Sam H Services Limited, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to charges of waste offences at the site known as Scotland Yard.
The pair, who live in Dewsbury, accepted they had kept waste which posed a fire risk in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health.
The company held an environmental permit from the Environment Agency but was repeatedly found in breach of it in 2015 and 2016, as huge piles of waste were found pushing against a perimeter fence which was broken in places. Two enforcement notices were issued and Sam Hunter was verbally abusive to officers on several occasions.
Piles of rotting, steaming waste were found and the fire service warned it was a fire risk.
An Environment Agency officer estimated the volume of waste on site to be between 825 and 1,383 tonnes. Disposal of this quantity of waste at landfill would cost between £98,880 and £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.
An Environment agency official inspects the tip site. Image: Environment Agency
Leeds Crown Court heard how on August 18 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 small 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 August 19 2016.
On August 25 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 August 30 2016. It took Kirklees Council until 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 sentencing, the Judge was satisfied both defendants had committed the offences deliberately with a flagrant disregard for the law which he described as a financial decision.
Jacinta Hunter had followed Sam Hunter’s lead as he was the controlling mind of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited. He said Sam Hunter should be ashamed of his behaviour when he described his interactions with Environment Agency officers to whom he had been foul and abusive.
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. Sam Hunter maintained he had done everything he could.
After the hearing 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. We encourage people to report any illegal waste activity to our 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 807060.”
A timetable was set for Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings to deprive the defendants of any financial benefit arising from their offending, so there were no financial orders for costs against the defendants at this hearing.
It was estimated at the time that firefighters spent more than 900 hours dealing with the fire and its aftermath. On the first day of the fire two fire engines from Huddersfield and others from Rastrick, Meltham and Slaithwaite attended, amassing a total of 104 man hours on that day alone.
The cost of the firefighting operation has never been revealed.