Northumberland man sentenced for illegal waste activity

February 19, 2024

A Northumberland man who made his neighbours’ lives a misery during lockdown by storing and burning waste on an illegal waste site has been sentenced.

Matthew Andrew Leiper, 44, cleared land he owned south of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, before dumping scrap vehicles and waste, and lighting bonfires, with the smell of smoke filling nearby homes between March and July 2020.

Leiper was found guilty on 11 October, following an eight-day trial at Newcastle crown court, of operating a waste site without an environmental permit and burning waste in a way likely to cause pollution to the environmental or harm to human health.

He has now been sentenced to a community order to carry out 260 hours of unpaid work.

The court heard Leiper had been using his land at Unthank Square for the illegal storage of waste and then burning it, causing pollution to the local environment, and impacting on the health and well-being of his neighbours.

Gary Wallace, Environment Agency area environment manager in the North East, said: “Leiper’s offending caused misery for the community, clearly impacting on their health and well-being and causing pollution to the local area.

“Our officers have worked hard to bring this case to court and the investigation demonstrates that we will not tolerate illegal waste activity.”

Evidence from neighbours described how in February 2020, they noticed Leiper’s land, which had previously been full of mature trees and hedgerows, had been cleared.

They saw fires burning most days, and despite keeping windows and doors closed, smoke still filled their homes. They also saw scrap vehicles at the site. One neighbour described a fire in March 2020 which burned for several days.

Neighbours also witnessed commercial vehicles on site depositing waste and saw Facebook posts from Leiper advertising vehicle parts for sale.

In March 2020, Environment Agency officers visited the site and saw scrap vehicles and the remains of a bonfire with mattress springs, metal, and plastic waste. Leiper was told that he was operating an illegal waste site and to stop.

Despite being told to cease activity, in a follow-up visit from Environment Agency officers in June 2020, they saw a pile of smouldering mixed waste measuring 8ft by 15ft, and a separate unlit bonfire containing broken pallets and plastic.

Gary Wallace added: “Leiper has shown a complete disregard for the community and the environment and his appearance at court sends out a message to others that we will take action to tackle waste crime.”

Sentencing Leiper, recorder Richard Herrmann ruled he had acted deliberately in the offence regarding waste fires and accepted the impact on residents had been significant. The court heard evidence about Leiper’s deteriorating mental health, which may have impacted on his decision-making in 2020.

This is valid as of 19th February 2024.

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