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A recycling company that illegally dumped 10,000 tonnes of waste blocked a watercourse and caused nearby homes to flood.

The incident, which required a £380,000 clean-up operation, threatened to contaminate the River Ely and damage water supply to 32,000 properties, with machinery getting stuck in the mud as Wenvoe Recycling tried to fix the problem.

Christopher Rees, for company director Anthony Gaughan, accepted: “He was clearly ill-suited to be running a business of this sort.”

Cardiff Crown Court heard the incident happened at Tunnel Side Yard in Quarry Road, Wenvoe, in the Vale of Glamorgan, by an old railway line.

Timothy Evans, prosecuting, said Wenvoe Recycling Limited did not have an environmental permit, but thousands of tonnes of controlled waste were tipped at the site.

The waste slipped down a slope and blocked a watercourse (Image: Natural Resources Wales)
Diggers were seen tipping waste over the edge of the site (Image: Natural Resources Wales)

One of the roles of Natural Resources Wales, who brought the case, is to regulate waste operators.

Businesses must apply for an environmental permit, which requires them to comply with strict conditions, designed to reduce risks to the environment.

Prosecutors said there was a tip-off from a member of the public and environmental crime officers visited the site on October 3, 2017.

The court heard the company was being paid per lorry load and officers saw lorries depositing “huge amounts” of mixed construction waste, with some being tipped over the edge of the site.

Nearby homes flooded when the watercourse became blocked (Image: Natural Resources Wales)
10,000 tonne of mixed construction waste were tipped at the site (Image: Natural Resources Wales)

They returned with the police two weeks later and saw “mountains” of waste, causing them concern about materials slipping down the slope at the perimeter of the yard.

Gaughan was warned that what he was doing was illegal and advised to cease all operations, but he carried on. Mr Evans said he showed a “flagrant disregard” for the law.

Officers returned on November 7, 2017, following reports the tipping had continued, and again told him he had to stop.

The defendant stated he had registered exemptions, which allowed him to deposit the waste. Mr Evans said exemptions were meant for low risk activities and none of the grounds applied.

A drone survey was carried out and experts estimated 10,000 tonnes of materials had been deposited at the yard. A digger was seen tipping waste into the railway siding.

Prosecutors said the tipping started to cause “real problems” when soil and rubble slipped down the bank and blocked a water course. 

Anthony Gaughan, of Wenvoe Recycling Limited, outside Cardiff Crown Court (Image: Wales New Service)

There was a meeting involving Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Water and the Vale of Glamorgan Council, during which Wenvoe Recycling promised to fix the problem.

The court heard an officer went back the following day, but found the site shut up and no clean-up work was being done. When he did make efforts, a crane and pump got stuck in the mud.

By December 5, Welsh Water – who had already spoken to Gaughan in July 2017 – were concerned about damage to a water main which supplied 32,000 homes.

Nearby homes flooded as waste blocked the water channel and emergency work had to be carried out, with pumps installed to divert the water.

Prosecutors said the clean-up operation cost nearly £380,000 to the public purse and 8,000 tonnes of waste to be removed, requiring 370 visits to landfill.

Mr Evans made an application under the Proceeds of Crime Act and the money will be used as compensation for the clean-up operation.

Gaughan, 56, from Harlech Road in Wenvoe, was invited for interview, but declined.

He later admitted – on behalf of himself and the company – depositing controlled waste and operating a regulated facility without an environmental permit.

Mr Rees stressed his client, who has multiple health problems, had no recent or relevant previous convictions.

He accepted Gaughan’s behaviour was reckless, but said he did not deliberately cause the landslide or tip waste into the river. He pointed out the water was not actually polluted.

Mr Rees said the legislation was “complex” and the defendant believed he did not need a permit because he thought the exemptions covered what he was doing.

He said there had been a “significant delay” since the offending was discovered two and a half years ago. A pre-sentence report found him to present a low risk of re-offending.

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Judge David Wynn Morgan imposed an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for 24 months, and ordered Gaughan to complete 10 days of a rehabilitation activity.

The company, which is no longer trading, was ordered to pay a nominal fine of £5 on each of the two counts. The case will be listed under the Proceeds of Crime Act later in the year.

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