The Environment Agency (EA) announced in July that successful prosecutions for waste crimes in 2008 resulted in fines exceeding £3m.

In 2004 the EA brought 455 waste prosecutions resulting in total fines of £1,424,843.00, or an average of £3,132 per fine. In 2008 the Agency brought an almost identical number of prosecutions – 454 - but total fines reached £3,156,427.00, an average of £6,952 per fine.

The large increase in fines could indicate many things, not least that Courts are beginning to view environmental crime more seriously and thus deserving of greater punishment. However, the EA ascribes the increase to its crack down on waste crime; highlighting amongst other things the creation of the National Environmental Crime Team, which is made up of around 20 former detectives, intelligence officers and forensic experts which was set up to target organised waste crime.

The Head of Waste and Resource Management at the EA, Liz Parkes said “this is not about people putting rubbish in the wrong bins – we concentrate on those individuals and companies whose illegal activities have the potential to cause serious damage to the environment”.

Many in the waste industry may not share this view. The Environment Agency has been criticised in the past for choosing to prosecute co-operative companies for minor infringements, where lesser punishment may be more appropriate, rather than tackling habitual and serious waste offenders.

Indeed, our experience is of the Environment Agency routinely prosecuting respectable operators for relatively minor alleged offences where the public interest in the prosecution appears entirely lacking. DMH Stallard LLP has successfully defended a good number of such prosecutions.