New task force launched to target waste criminals

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A NEW task force dedicated to tackling serious and organised waste crime, such as dumping hazardous materials on private land and falsely labelling waste so it can be exported abroad to unsuspecting countries, has been launched today.

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime will for the first time bring together law enforcement agencies, environmental regulators, HMRC and the National Crime Agency in the war against waste crime.

Toby Willison, Chair of the Joint Unit for Waste Crime Board, commented on the launch: “The war against waste crime just took a giant step forward.

“The launch of this new unit means we now have a full complement of partners across law enforcement as well as our counterparts in Scotland and Wales to bring down waste criminals for good.

“We will target serious and organised criminals across the country as they try to illegally exploit the waste industry and the environment.

“These criminal gangs need to know that we have them in our sights.”

Serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600 million a year and a 2018 Home Office review found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and in some cases modern slavery.

To tackle the growing trend in criminal waste networks, the new unit will conduct site inspections, make arrests and prosecutions and, upon conviction, push for heavy fines and custodial sentences.

Steve Thomas, Detective Superintendent at North Yorkshire Police, commented: “The Joint Unit for Waste Crime will provide a valuable link for police forces who are tackling organised waste crime and those who use waste management as an illegal enterprise or as a front for money laundering.

“I look forward to seeing the development of our relationship with Joint Unit partners in a bid to disrupt and dismantle these criminal organisations and their harmful activities.”

By working together in this way, Joint Unit partners can more easily share their intelligence and resources to take swifter action when investigating criminal waste operations and other connected illegal activities, such as money laundering and human trafficking.

Jennifer Shearer, Head of Enforcement at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said: “Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s Regulatory Strategy makes it clear that ‘compliance is non-negotiable’, and being a partner on the Joint Unit for Waste Crime is a clear step forward in ensuring that responsible agencies work together to disrupt and prevent waste criminals from operating.

“Organised waste crime operates across geographical boundaries and has a serious and detrimental impact on our environment, communities and compliant businesses.

“Working together in this way allows us to tackle this criminality swiftly and effectively.”

The new unit bolsters the Environment Agency’s existing efforts to tackle waste crime.

Welcoming the new unit, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Waste crime is a scourge on our environment and this new Joint Unit for Waste Crime will crack down on the criminals responsible.

“Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action.

“The Joint Unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation.”

Last year, the Agency’s dedicated team stopped illegal waste activity at 912 sites – 12 per cent more than the previous year.

As a result of prosecutions taken by the Environment Agency, businesses and individuals were fined almost £2.8 million for environmental offences in 2018.

Steve Bennett, Deputy Director of Tasking and Coordination at the National Crime Agency, added: “The National Crime Agency welcomes the establishment of the Joint Unit for Waste Crime.

“As partners in a whole system response to organised crime, we are committed to supporting its efforts in bringing criminals to justice and limiting environmental, community and commercial impact in order to protect the economy and the public.”

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime is one of a number of initiatives in the government’s landmark Resources and Waste Strategy, which is focused on tackling waste crime and driving up levels of performance in the industry.

Since 2015, six legislative changes have been made to enable the EA to take tougher action against waste criminals.

This includes the Agency having the power to restrict access to problem waste sites by locking gates and barring access. Environment Agency waste crime budgets have also risen by £60 million for 2014-22.

Simon Walker, from HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “We are proud to be part of the Joint Unit for Waste Crime Board.

“Waste crime is a blight on our society, with those responsible often involved in a raft of other crimes including large scale fraud that rob our vital public services of much-needed funds.

“This new unit will allow us to share resources, expertise and intelligence and take the fight to these criminals, protecting our communities and creating a level playing field for honest businesses.”