Director of wood recycling plant in Northamptonshire deemed a “fire risk” given suspended jail sentence

Wood chip waster at Larner Timber Recycling
Wood chip waster at Larner Timber Recycling

The director of a wood recycling plant in Northamptonshire who ignored warnings about fire risks and pollution has been given a suspended prison sentence after he was prosecuted by the Environment Agency.

David Lewis McEwan, former director of Larner Timber Recycling in Wellingborough, appeared in Northampton Crown Court on Wednesday after admitting failing to minimise the risks of pollution and emissions and was given a six month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.

He was also put under a one-month curfew, to be monitored with an electronic tag, and was ordered to pay £1,800 in costs to the Environment Agency. His company went into administration in September 2013.

Anne-Lise McDonald, prosecuting, told the court that from May 2012 the company chipped and sorted waste wood, but that the site soon accumulated a huge volume of waste wood without installing any fire breaks.

Then, when the company did produce a proper written management system nearly a year later, it still failed to follow it, leading to a greater risk of fire.

Mrs McDonald described two instances where fires had started on the site and how, in one case, in December 2012, firefighters struggled to get to it because of the amount of wood material littering the site.

The court also heard how wood particles from chipping escaped from the site, polluting neighbours’ sites and causing a further breach of its permit.

McEwan was also the director of an adjoining business Larner Pallet Recycling which was prosecuted in May 2012 for causing dust pollution.

Mrs McDonald told the court that McEwan was repeatedly asked for adequate management and emissions plans but none were forthcoming until April 2013.

She said: “A notice was served two months later to prevent the acceptance, shredding, pulverising and chipping of wood to prevent the serious risk of pollution from fire.”

In mitigation, Mr Steven Evans said McEwan tried to keep his business going but did not have the money after being mis-sold financial products.

He said McEwan had done some things such as buying water cannons to keep the dust down.

The court was told that McEwan had a history of non-compliance.

Judge Timothy Smith said McEwan had “put his head in the sand”. He said: “There were a number of issues with the site with waste being stored for more than three months, water cannons not used effectively and fire breaks not properly installed. The temperature of the waste was not properly monitored to locate hot spots.”

After the hearing, Environment Agency officer John Jones said: “This prosecution was entirely avoidable had the company complied with our advice. We repeatedly tried to help it comply with its permit but despite many visits and much advice, little was changed.

“Waste sites have a duty to ensure that their operations are managed properly to ensure they do not present a risk to neighbouring companies, nor to the environment. If they refuse to comply, or deliberately ignore advice supplied by site Inspectors, they may be prosecuted and risk going to jail.”