Company directors convicted after 2 major fires
Suspended prison sentences handed to company directors following major fires and pollution incident in Kidderminster
Two former directors of Lawrence Skip Hire Ltd were given suspended prison sentences and community punishment orders at Worcester Crown Court yesterday (Thursday 4 July 2019).
The court heard that waste management failures at the company led to 2 major fires and a pollution incident categorised by court sentencing guidelines as being at the highest level.
David Lawrence, 52, of Seymour Road, Kidderminster was the company operations director and designated technically competent manager. He was sentenced to 9 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, and ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work.
Andrew Gibson, 55, of Wood Lane, Lichfield, was the company chairman and sales director. He was sentenced to 4 and a half months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, and ordered to complete 90 hours of unpaid work.
The directors ran a waste recycling facility under the trading name of Lawrences Recycling and Waste Management Ltd at The Forge, Stourport Road, in Kidderminster, under an environmental permit. They claimed the site was the largest indoor waste management facility in Europe.
History of the site
Between August 2012 and December 2012, the company stored excessive quantities of waste at the site in breach of the environmental permit, despite warnings given to the company by the Environment Agency. These failures to properly assess the risk of fire and manage the waste appropriately on the site culminated in a serious fire, when waste self combusted at the company premises in December 2012.
In spite of that fire and further warnings from the Environment Agency and Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, the company continued to accept and store thousands of tonnes of waste to avoid the cost of disposal and in a way that put the environment at risk. These further failures led to a second fire at the site in June 2013.
The fire in December 2012 burned for nearly a week. The fire in June 2013 burned for 8 weeks and resulted in a major impact to the environment and local community. The smoke had a significant impact on air quality and affected the operation of businesses around the site. Water used to fight the fire was contaminated by the burning waste and it flowed into the nearby Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The contaminated water that entered the canal in June 2013 resulted in the deaths of 3,000 fish and threatened drinking water supplies. Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service described the fires as 2 of the biggest firefighting operations it had ever had to deal with.
The company did not have buildings insurance after the first fire, and went into administration in September 2013, leaving the Environment Agency, Fire Service, Wyre Forest District Council and Worcester County Council to pay thousands of pounds to demolish the building, extinguish the fire and control pollution until the site was eventually sold.
Comments at the court hearing
In passing sentence, His Honour Judge Cartwright, found that both Lawrence and Gibson had been negligent in the lead up to the fire in December 2012. The judge found that in the lead up to the fire in June 2013, both men had ignored warnings even from their own employees, about the risks to the environment, concluding that Lawrence had acted recklessly given that in his position the waste was ‘before his eyes’ and Gibson had continued to act in a negligent manner and continued to encourage customers to send their waste to the site.
In mitigation, the court noted that both Lawrence and Gibson had pleaded guilty and were of good character, with no previous convictions.
Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency spokesperson said:
These directors operated their waste recycling facility in a way that blighted the community with flies, vermin and odour, and put people’s health and businesses at risk by not adequately assessing and controlling the risks of fire. They continued to operate with flagrant disregard after the first fire with no insurance and no fund set aside to manage these risks, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill when an incident occurred and creating misery for their neighbours.
We have pursued this case on behalf of the community and multi-agency partners. These directors now have criminal records as a result of the environmental offences they committed and have to payback the community through unpaid work orders.
You can call the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506 or look online to find out how to responsibly manage any waste your business produces.
We can all play a part in helping to prevent waste getting into the hands of criminals. If you suspect that a company is doing something wrong, you can call the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60 or report it anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Latest News from
Environment Agency agrees £60,000 donation to Wildlife Trust24/01/2020 13:15:00
Gloucester Gateway Ltd have donated money to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust following an Environment Agency investigation.
Environmental bodies set joint vision to tackle climate change23/01/2020 14:15:00
Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, and Natural England outline a share vision to use nature-based solutions to tackle the climate emergency.
Kent woman given custodial sentence for Hernhill waste crime23/01/2020 09:25:00
Woman jailed for her part in illegal, family run waste storage and processing business.
Directors and company sentenced for flouting tyre storage laws22/01/2020 11:33:00
A man who ran illegal waste sites – dangerously hoarding hundreds of tonnes of waste tyres – has been handed a 12 month suspended prison sentence.
Prepare for flooding to reduce impacts on mental health22/01/2020 11:20:00
Environment Agency launches campaign to highlight the impact flood damage has on mental health, advising people on the importance of signing up to flood alerts.
Have your say on public consultation21/01/2020 11:10:00
Members of the public are invited to have their say on a permit application to place fish barriers across the entrances to Hoveton Great Broad in Norfolk as part of a restoration project.
Clock is ticking for waste criminals as new taskforce launched17/01/2020 11:22:00
A new unit will bring together law enforcement agencies and UK environmental regulators to target waste criminals.
Coasts on the front line15/01/2020 12:48:00
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency Coastal Futures 2020, Royal Geographical Society, London.