A Grantham, Lincolnshire trader who had marketed himself as a registered asbestos-removal specialist has received a suspended prison sentence after exposing members of the public to the carcinogenic material.
Lincoln Crown Court was told earlier this month how Lee Charles acted as de facto director of Lincs Demolition and had secured lucrative work between 2017 and 2019 after falsely marketing himself as a registered removal specialist with the Environment Agency. He was neither a specialist nor registered.
Charles, who has a number of previous convictions, pleaded guilty to lying to customers and providing false paperwork to disguise his deception.
The Environment Agency found that he had removed asbestos from customers across Nottinghamshire as well as in Abingdon, Oxfordshire; Doncaster, South Yorkshire; Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire; Stockport, Greater Manchester; Stourbridge, West Midlands; and Wellingborough, Northamptonshire without a permit.
The waste asbestos was then kept illegally in hired storage containers in Welbourn, Lincolnshire, just 200 m from a school and close to a Girl Guide centre, the Environment Agency investigation found.
Charles had told the owners that he intended to keep tools in the storage space. However, when he failed to pay the rent on the containers, the owners forced the locks and discovered the asbestos stored inside.
Taking the trader’s avoidance of costs into consideration, from appropriate staff training to safe storage, Lincs Demolition had avoided business costs of at least £50,000
After the hazardous material was uncovered, Charles moved his activities to an unpermitted waste site in Little Hale, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire. The Environment Agency found that he continued to store the hazardous and carcinogenic substance unsafely, putting the public at risk.
Charles pleaded guilty to two counts of operating a waste operation without a permit, contrary to regulations 12, 38(1)(a) and 41(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
He also admitted two counts of keeping or disposing of controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm, contrary to sections 33(1)(c), 33(6) and 157(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Imposing a 12-month prison sentence, recorder Paul Mann told Charles that he ‘knew the regulatory regime well enough to know what he was doing was seriously wrong’.
However, Mann added that he was ‘just’ able to suspend the sentence for a period of two years so that the Grantham trader could pay the Environment Agency’s costs. He will also be required to pay compensation to the owners of the Welbourn containers for the costs they had incurred to clean up the site.
Charles must return to Lincoln Crown Court in June for consideration of financial order, including the potential confiscation of his proceeds of crime.
‘Lee Charles’ crimes were not just illegal, but dangerous,’ said Paul Salter, Waste Crime Officer for the Environment Agency in Lincolnshire.
‘Lee Charles’ crimes were not just illegal, but dangerous’
‘In spite of repeated warnings and advice from the Environment Agency, Lincs Demolition, under Charles’ direction, put both the environment and public health at risk. Asbestos when inhaled causes serious health problems, the careless storage of which presents a significant hazard, with a risk to life.’
Salter added that taking the trader’s avoidance of costs into consideration, from appropriate staff training to safe storage, Lincs Demolition had avoided business costs of at least £50,000.
‘It is imperative that all waste businesses have the correct permits in place to protect themselves, the environment and the public,’ he added. ‘We support businesses trying to do the right thing, only issuing enforcement notices, and penalising businesses as a last resort.’
The Environment Agency estimates that illegal waste activity amounted to more than £600m in costs in England alone in 2015. The figure for the UK is likely to be much higher.