Sentencing for Environmental Crimes: The Impact of the Sentencing Council’s Guideline: R (on the application of the Environment Agency) v Lawrence [2020] EWCA Crim 1465

Publication Date01 February 2021
Date01 February 2021
DOI10.1177/0022018320983611
AuthorNeil Parpworth
SubjectCase Note
Case Note
Sentencing for Environmental
Crimes: The Impact of the
Sentencing Council’s Guideline
R (on the application of the Environment Agency) v
Lawrence [2020] EWCA Crim 1465
Keywords
Sentencing, environmental crime, Guideline, suspended custodial sentence, manifestly
excessive
The applicant for permission to appeal was the operations director of a family run business, Lawrence
Skip Hire Ltd. The company occupied a substantial site on the outskirts of Kidderminster, below which
ran a canal, and adjacent to which was a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The business received
waste at its site, for which it charged a fee, and then made additional profit by extracting and selling on
some of the waste. Unsaleable waste had to be disposed of at a cost to the company. The business
operated under the authority of an environmental permit issued by the Environment Agency.
Due to financial difficulties, the company allowed unsaleable waste to accumulate on site. Vast
quantities of such waste were in plain sight on a daily basis. Complaints from neighbouring properties
about the smell and an increase in vermin led to an Agency visit during which the risk of a self-heating
fire breaking out was made clear. The site was subsequently inspected by the company’s insurers and on
two further occasions by the Agency. On one of those occasions, the Agency brought fire officers to the
site. Despite the various warnings, a fire broke out on the site on 12th December 2012 and took more
than a week to extinguish. Thousands of gallons of water mixed with combustion products from the
waste created fire water. Although the Agency was able to prevent it from reaching the SSSI, some of the
fire water had to be diverted to the canal.
The applicant undertook to learn lessons from the fire. Despite assurances given to the Agency,
however, waste began accumulating at the site once again. Further warnings from the company
employee responsible for health and safety and the Agency were ignored. On 16th June 2013, another
major fire broke out. Thick black smoke emanating from the site caused Public Health England to advise
people to stay away. The fire, which continued for many weeks, necessitated a substantial and prolonged
fire-fighting operation. Large quantities of highly polluted water ran into the canal and caused the death
of 3,000 fish. The black smoke had a significant adverse effect on air quality in the locality, which
included a primary and secondary school. The expense of paying the vast costs of the operation fell on
the public purse given that the applicant’s insurance had lapsed after the first fire.
The applicant pleaded guilty to four counts relating to the two fires. In relation to count 1, the offence
was contrary to regs 38(2) and 41(1) of the Environment Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations
2010 (then in force), and in relation to count 2, the offence was contrary to ss 33(1) and (6) and 157 of the
Environmental Protection Act 1990. Counts 3 and 4 provided for the same set of offences in relation to
the second fire. He was sentenced on count 1 to a fine of £270. No separate penalty was imposed on
count 2. In respect of counts 3 and 4, the sentencing judge imposed a term of 9 months’ imprisonment,
suspended for 24 months, together with 180 hours of unpaid work on each count to run concurrently.
The Journal of Criminal Law
2021, Vol. 85(1) 58–61
ªThe Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/0022018320983611
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