£95k damages for illegal dumping victim

By Alexis Alison

Three public bodies must pay £95,000 in damages after failing to act against an unauthorised waste site containing enough rubbish to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Parliamentary ombudsman Ann Abraham and local government ombudsman Anne Seex’s joint report investigated the illegal dumping of thousands of tonnes of rubbish a few metres from the remote farmhouse of the complainant, referred to as Mrs D.

Despite the existence of national protocol on waste enforcement, the property went unchecked from 2001-2007 by the Environment Agency, Lancashire county council and Rossendale borough council.

The biological and archaeological heritage of the area in which Mrs D lived made the failure to act on her complaints far worse, the report said. Her neighbour illegally handled large amounts of waste, carried out unauthorised development and blocked footpaths by intimidating anyone trying to use them.

In today’s report, Ms Seex said: “Anyone seeing the evidence of what happened on that land and of the devastation wrought on this beauty spot should be justifiably shocked and outraged that, despite all the legal safeguards in place, such events could actually happen.”

The financial compensation will be used to reimburse Mrs. D. and her son for any disruptions in their life and for any financial losses resulting from the frustration in selling their property.

In addition to monetary compensation, the ombudsmen recommended all three bodies to send formal apologies to the complainants, to create agreements on how to respond to illegal waste activities and to take actions to prevent a recurrence of such events.

All these recommendations have been accepted. Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive of Lancashire county council, said: “We could and should have done more to help these residents and apologise sincerely and unreservedly for what has happened.

“Their neighbour behaved in a very antisocial way and ignored numerous planning regulations and notices. But I fully accept that they should have received a much better service from all the organisations involved.”

A joint protocol has been developed between Lancashire county council and the Environment Agency to respond to future illegal waste activities.

Tony Dean, the Environment Agency’s north-west regional director, said: “It is clear that we failed to meet our own high standards in this case and did not do enough to protect the complainants or the environment. We have apologised to the family and will pay the compensation proposed by the ombudsman.”

He pointed out 300 prosecutions involving illegal waste disposal had been brought in 2007 and 2008 and added that the Environment Agency’s approach to the problem had been transformed by the emergence of “waste criminals”.

“We have built intelligence-led environmental crime teams, sought new powers to recoup the proceeds of this crime and work closely with partners such as the police, Revenue & Customs and local authorities,” Mr Dean added.

Rossendale council subsequently succeeded in bringing an injunction against the neighbour.

His HGV licence has been revoked indefinitely and he is believed to have moved away from the area.