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Sentences handed down over fire safety issues at Huddersfield waste site

25 September 2023

SAMUEL HUNTER, aged 31 of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire and his mother Jacinta Hunter, aged 59 (also of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire) have been given a 24-month custodial sentence and a 12-month sentence respectively, suspended for two years, in the wake of waste-related offences at a site in Queens Mill Road, Huddersfield. Samuel Hunter must also undertake 300 hours of unpaid work, the maximum number of hours that any court can order, while Jacinta Hunter must undertake 80 hours of unpaid work.

The two defendants, who served as 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 and were sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on 6 September. The defendants accepted the fact that they had kept waste which posed a fire risk in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health.

The company operated from premises at Scotland Yard on the Queens Mill Road in Huddersfield and held an environmental permit from The Environment Agency, which has conditions in place to ensure any waste activity does not adversely impact the environment.

Following site inspections conducted by officers from The Environment Agency in 2015 and 2016, the site was found to be repeatedly in breach of its permit. Huge piles of waste were found pushing against a perimeter fence, which was broken in places. Shredded waste was found stored between a roofed area of the site and a wall when it should have been stored in a building or otherwise held in bays.

The Environment Agency ordered the waste to be moved and the fences repaired, but return inspections found that no improvements had been made.

Following continued breaches of the permit, and concerns over the waste falling through the fence and potentially polluting a river, two Enforcement Notices were issued. When advice had been given to make improvements, Samuel Hunter was verbally abusive to officers on more than one occasion.

The Environment Agency’s officers were concerned over rubbish including wood, rubble and scrap metal (and a gas bottle hanging over the wall against the damaged fencing towards the river). In one place where the boundary fence was completely missing, some waste had fallen into the river. As such, there was a pollution risk.

A further visit found the amount of waste being stored had increased significantly and was rotting.

Fire risk

Officers from the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service attended the site. They duly advised Samuel Hunter that the site was a fire risk and that he needed to introduce fire breaks between the waste piles.

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 at the site was estimated to be £120 per tonne.

In June 2016 another individual began running the company and site. The court then heard how, on 18 August 2016, a fire broke out at the site and a large amount of run-off 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 and Rescue Service personnel deployed a small pump to move this run-off on to the access road such that it would flow into the sewer network, which meant the road was closed for the entire day on 19 August 2016.

On 25 August 2016, Kirklees Council took the decision to bring machinery to the site in order to dig into the waste pile and move the waste around on the site to help the Fire and Rescue Service extinguish the fire.

The fire was still smouldering on 30 August 2016. It took Kirklees Council until March 2017 to remove all the waste from the site and therefore reduce the risk of ongoing fires. The total amount paid by Kirklees Council for clearance of the site amounted to £1,142,131.

“Flagrant disregard for the law”

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 Samuel Hunter’s lead as he was the controlling mind of Hunter Group (Yorkshire) Limited. The Judge aired the view that Samuel Hunter should be ashamed of his behaviour in terms of interactions with The Environment Agency’s officers to whom he had been foul and abusive.

In mitigation, the legal team for 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. Samuel Hunter maintained that he had done everything he could.

No tolerance for waste crime

Ben Hocking, environment manager for Yorkshire at The Environment Agency, explained: “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 the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and Kirklees Council. Despite repeatedly being warned, waste was still brought to site, in turn posing a risk to the environment and contributing towards a fire which affected the surrounding community and businesses and left the authorities with significant clearing up costs.”

A timetable has been set for Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings to deprive the defendants of any financial benefit arising from their offending. As such, there were no financial orders for costs imposed on the defendants at this hearing.