A DISTRICT judge has publicly announced his “fury” at a waste management company for holding up court proceedings over water pollution charges.
Representatives from Biffa Waste Services Ltd, which runs a landfill site at Houghton-le-Spring in County Durham, yesterday pleaded guilty to five charges of polluting water serving thousands of homes at a hearing at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.
But District Judge Stephen Earl hit out at the company’s legal team for requesting another adjournment due to a change in solicitor.
Judge Earl had been expecting to sentence the company during the hearing. Addressing Tim Horlock QC, newly appointed to represent Biffa, he said: “I’m quite furious.
“The fact you haven’t done anything for three to four months is a very important matter.
“As much as this is a complicated case for everybody, actually let’s keep one thing in mind – these are summary proceedings and that’s what I would have anticipated in the last 12 months.
“I don’t want to have a witch hunt but I will if the delay is such that it becomes unpalatable.
“I want to bring this to a conclusion. The local community are avidly watching this case and one understands why.”
The five charges brought by the Environment Agency date from April 9 2010, to May 5, 2011, and include failing to notify the organisation for causing significant pollution. Biffa is still to enter a final plea against a further charge of allowing leachate – foul-smelling liquid which runs from rubbish – into the water supply from February 2011.
Mr Horlock QC admitted the proceedings had been unsatisfactory but requested more time to prepare the details of the last plea – which was accepted by District Judge Earl.
Protester Colin Wakefield, who has campaigned against the landfill site for 15 years with campaign group Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats), said he and his fellow supporters were exasperated that the case hadn’t been brought to sentencing again.
He said: “We are very disappointed that we have another delay. It’s such a slow process when what we believe is relatively straightforward.
“It was refreshing that the judge was quite rigorous in his criticism of the way it’s been handled and I don’t think Biffa left under the illusion that they are satisfied. We are all just exasperated now. It’s been a painfully long process.”
District Judge Earl adjourned the case until February 20 when the final plea will be entered by Biffa.
He also said the company was likely to be asked to pay the Environment Agency’s court costs for yesterday’s hearing.
The Houghton-le-Spring landfill site lies less than a mile from Stonegate pumping station which supplies water to people living in the town, as well as South Sunderland and South Durham.
Biffa is currently in the process of applying for planning permission to continue operating for another 17 years and transform part of the site into an industrial estate.
Last July the company was fined £27,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,250 after it admitted two charges of failing to comply with environmental permit conditions.