Landlords – Sitting On Your Hands Is No Defence to Environmental Crimes

Landlords who know that their property is being used in violation of environmental rules cannot escape criminal liability simply by sitting on their hands. The High Court made that point in

a case involving a plot of land from which more than 20,000 mattresses, weighing over 470 tonnes, had to be cleared.waste land

The company that owned the plot leased it to a businessman who used it to operate a mattress recycling centre. He was served with an enforcement notice by the Environment Agency (EA) and ceased trading at around that time. The company and its director were subsequently convicted by magistrates of knowingly permitting the operation of a waste storage facility without being authorised by an environmental permit, contrary to the Environment Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

The company was fined £5,000 and the director was sentenced to a 12-month community order, with a requirement to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work. Each was also ordered to contribute over £7,000 towards the costs of the prosecution.

In challenging the convictions, they argued that they had initially been unaware of the enforcement notice and that the director had been out of the country at the time. Once they realised what was going on, they had cooperated fully with the EA. It was also submitted that, between the dates charged, the site was in the process of being cleaned up and was no longer being used for a regulated purpose.

In dismissing their appeal, however, the Court found that a waste operation had continued on the site after the tenant’s departure, in that large amounts of waste had remained in storage there, prior to its clearance. The Court also ruled that, in order to establish that they knowingly permitted the operation, it was not necessary to show that the company or its director had performed any positive acts. It was sufficient for the prosecution to prove that they knew a waste operation was taking place and that they did nothing to prevent it.

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