Yate men burned ‘vast amount of rubbish’ in illegal Bonfire Night at farm

A YATE flooring business owner has been given a suspended prison sentence for illegally burning business waste.

The Environment Agency and South Gloucestershire Council prosecuted David Hemmings, aged 51, of Hatherley, after complaints about burning on a site at Riverdale Farm, Chapel Lane, Old Sodbury.

In October he was sentenced to a total of 15 weeks in prison, suspended for a year and ordered to pay costs totalling £9,050 and £154 victim surcharge after admitting five offences related to operating an illegal waste site, under the Environmental Protection Act and planning regulations.  

Another man, 29-year-old Tom Pleass, of Cherington in Yate, was given a 36-week suspended sentence, ordered to pay £1,000 costs and a £149 victim surcharge, and told to attend a six-month drugs rehabilitation programme and a mental health support programme after admitting a string of waste offences, some of which were linked to the farm.

The council said its environmental enforcement officers linked back waste found at six fly-tips on public roads between March 2020 and December 2021 to Pleass, who had been paid by residents to properly dispose of it.

When interviewed, Pleass said he must have collected waste a minimum of 200 times during that time and had no paperwork to show any of it had been legally disposed of.

He admitted fly-tipping waste that was then burned at two locations, including Riverdale Farm, and admitted he was present when much of the waste was “burnt in an enormous pile”, topped with a caravan, on November 5 – Bonfire Night – in 2021.

Pleass had registered a tipper truck with South Gloucestershire Council to use it at the area’s Sort It recycling centres. Despite a limit of 12 visits per year, he took the tipper truck to Sort It centres 38 times over a two-month period, ignoring repeated warnings from staff to stop.

Bristol Magistrates Court heard that the Environment Agency and the council visited the farm site in March last year and found piles of mixed waste, including hardcore, wood, paper, black bin bags, electrical items, plastics and building waste, after repeated complaints of burning taking place.

There was also a pile of carpet offcuts next to other partially-burned piles of waste. 

The agency said Hemmings had an exemption intended to allow for hardcore to be taken to the site to restore farm tracks and lanes, but this work had not been carried out.

He claimed that he sorted through waste, removing mixed waste and plastic so that it could be taken to a regulated site, but the exemption didn’t allow him to take business waste for sorting. 

Waste dumped at the farm
Waste dumped at the farm owned by David Hemmings (above and top). Pictures: Environment Agency

Hemmings admitted having a number of fires to dispose of waste from his flooring business, including wooden pallets, plastics and carpets.

A five-year Community Behaviour Order banning him from burning waste at the site, except for green waste originating there, was imposed at the hearing in October.

Hemmings was also prohibited from bringing waste onto the site, except for carpet off-cuts intended to be used as root protection for newly-planted trees.

Hemmings was also ordered to return the site to its previous state. 

The council applied for a five-year Criminal Behaviour Order on Pleass, which bans him from entering any Sort It recycling centre, being involved in the storing, transferring, treating or disposing of any waste except his own household waste, and being involved in any bonfires except for small ones at his home.

‘Shocking case’

Afterwards Environment Agency senior environmental crime officer Clive Clasby, said Hemmings “was trying to cut corners and save money without any regard for the environment”. 

He added: “It’s not acceptable to illegally take waste to a site instead of having it disposed of by contracting a licensed waste carrier to take it to a regulated site.”

Council cabinet member for environmental enforcement Leigh Ingham said both Pleass and Hemmings had shown “a complete disregard for the laws regarding waste disposal and the environment”. 

She said: “This result follows a protracted investigation that demonstrates the tenacity and determination of both organisations in bringing offenders to court. 

 “This was a shocking case that showed a complete lack of regard for the laws regarding waste disposal and for the environment.

“When the rest of us strive to recycle everything we can and dispose of our rubbish responsibly, burning a vast amount of waste such as this is almost beyond belief and completely unacceptable.”

Top picture: The bonfire on Riverdale Farm, before and after being lit on November 5, 2021