Waste operators that caused fires receive sentences

Waste site at Liverton

Waste operators who repeatedly ignored Environment Agency advice that their sites posed a persistent fire risk – before fires broke out that burned for days – have been sentenced, according to a 21 May press release.

Sentencing included prison sentences spanning 6.5 years and fines totalling more than £103,000.

Six defendants appeared in court for sentencing at Teesside Crown Court on Monday 20 May for multiple environmental offences spanning across three sites:

  • Greenology (Liverton) Ltd at Liverton, near Loftus: involving its director Laura Hepburn, 44, of Stonebridgegate, Ripon, and manager Jonathan Guy Brudenell, 54, of no fixed address. Waste storage issues at this site culminated in a fire which happened in April 2020. Selective Environmental Solutions Ltd (SESL) and its director Jonathan Waldron, 42, of Winton in Northallerton, operated on this site with Brudenell prior to Greenology taking over, and also illegally deposited waste at a farm near Whitby.
  • Old Eldon Brickworks in Eldon, Bishop Auckland: involving Waldron – as a director of Falcons Two Ltd – who failed to comply with an enforcement notice and kept waste in a manner likely to cause pollution. This led to a major fire at the site in August 2020.
  • Greenology (Teesside) Ltd at Sotheby Road, Skippers Lane Industrial Estate in Middlesbrough: Hepburn, as director of this separate company, was sentenced for offences in 2021 and 2022 relating to the illegal storage of waste tyres.

The court heard the defendants repeatedly ignored Environment Agency advice about the storage and management of waste and the significant fire risk posed by all three sites.

Also, in an apparent attempt to preserve the reputation of the Greenology name, when notified in 2021 of the prosecution for the Liverton site, Laura Hepburn changed the company name to LM South Yorkshire Ltd.

Gary Wallace, Area Environment manager for the Environment Agency in the North East, said:

“All of those sentenced have shown a complete disregard for environmental laws, which are there to protect people and the environment.

“They could have been in no doubt that the sites were operating illegally and posed a significant fire risk, but repeatedly ignored our officers’ warnings about bringing the sites back into compliance and making them safe.

“The walls of waste resulted in two major fires, impacting on the environment and causing misery for local residents.

“Waste criminals cause distress to our communities and can destroy the environment and this case demonstrates that we’ll do everything in our power to ensure they are brought to justice for their crimes.”

The defendants were sentenced as follows:

  • Brudenell was jailed for two years and 10 months.
  • Hepburn was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years, with 150 hours of unpaid work in the community.
  • Waldron was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years with requirements of probation supervision, rehabilitation and 150 hours of unpaid work in the community. He was also ordered to pay £9,000 in costs.
  • Greenology (Liverton) was fined £69,000.
  • Greenology (Teesside) was fined £20,000.
  • SESL was fined £14,666.66.

The court was told that SESL first operated at the Liverton site between December 2018 and February 2019 with Waldron as director, Brudenell in a managerial role and Hepburn also involved. SESL registered several waste exemptions – which allow low level waste activity which does not require an environmental permit.

In January 2019, the Environment Agency started investigating SESL as it was immediately in breach of its waste exemption storage limit of 500 tonnes.

But after a fall out between the defendants, Hepburn set up Greenology (Liverton) Ltd, which took over the site in February 2019. Throughout this period Brudenell continued in a management role, all the time using the false name Guy Barker, a fact known by Hepburn.

Waste on site continued to increase, with the Environment Agency warning about the amount of waste and the fire risk it posed, and taking subsequent enforcement action to have waste cleared from the site. Whilst the site was largely cleared, by late 2019 it had quickly been refilled with waste plastic.

On 5 April 2020, a major fire broke out which quickly spread through the baled plastic waste and the building and destroyed the site. The fire burned for nine days, hugely impacting local residents who couldn’t be evacuated because of the Covid-19 national lockdown.

By helping to run both SESL and Greenology (Liverton), Brudenell was breaching a bankruptcy restriction order which prohibited him from running a company and had been imposed as a result of multiple fraud offences.

Hepburn was also director of Greenology (Teesside) Ltd which she set up in February 2020, and dealt mainly with waste tyres. An Environment Agency inspection in June 2021 revealed the number of tyres exceeded the limit of the site’s waste exemption and posed a significant fire risk.

She repeatedly claimed that the business was going to build a pyrolysis plant – for recycling end of life tyres – and had obtained a permit from Middlesbrough Borough Council for this. But despite obtaining large sums from business partners no pyrolysis plant was ever built, and the site continually handled excessive volumes of waste tyres which threatened to damage the environment.

In a separate case, in February 2020 Falcons Two Ltd took over the operation of the Old Brickworks at Eldon, Bishop Auckland, with Waldron as one of its directors and the person with waste management knowledge.

But the site was never in compliance with its environmental permit and was continually storing excessive volumes of waste causing a major fire risk.

Following inspections of the site the Environment Agency told Waldron to take remedial action to bring the site back into compliance given the risk of a significant environmental incident due to multiple failures of the site’s fire prevention plan.

It also issued an enforcement notice requiring the site to remove waste and create fire breaks, which was breached on 17 August, just before the major fire broke out in August 2020. This fire also burned for many days and was challenging for the fire service due to the sheer volume of waste involved.