• Thursday, February 22, 2024

Headline News

Asian-origin waste plant boss fined for obstructing Environment Agency officers

Plastic waste that was not affected by a fire is pictured at a plastic recycling dump in Valle de Chalco, Mexico January 30, 2024. REUTERS/Raquel Cunha

By: Shajil Kumar

An Asian-origin owner of a waste treatment plant in east London was fined after she barred UK Environment Agency inspectors from entering the site unless they handed over thousands of pounds in bogus fees.

Gurjit Athwal, director of Keep Green Ltd, has been fined £3,000 with more than double that in costs and other court charges for twice refusing entry to officers from the Environment Agency.

The officers wanted to follow up concerns about the amount of waste stored at the site on the banks of the river Thames since the last visual check six months ago.

“One of the most direct ways the Environment Agency can ensure companies like Keep Green operate without harming the environment is through inspecting waste sites and other commercial operations,” said Barry Russell, environment manager for the Environment Agency in north and east London.

“Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency staff carrying out their work to keep communities safe. Her fine will hopefully show her and others that her actions were unacceptable. My officers must be able to inspect permitted sites,” he said.

“Our investigation into how the waste operation is run at Atcost Road continues, although the permit to treat waste there is now held by a third party,” he added.

One of the officers called at Keep Green in Atcost Road, Barking, in February last year.

Barkingside Magistrates’ Court in east London heard Athwal stopped a female officer from entering the premises in a busy industrial area north of the river. She demanded £500 and insurance documents from the officer before she would let her in.

Environment Agency staff have powers of entry to visit and inspect any location that holds a permit to operate and do not pay sites they regulate. Therefore, refusal to let inspections take place is a criminal offence.

The officer left, having explained to Athwal why she was there, but the 51-year-old wouldn’t listen or look at the officer’s authorisation card, which listed her powers as an Environment Agency member of staff.

Athwal later made a number of unsubstantiated claims about the officer in writing, saying she abused her position, adding the Environment Agency official had lied about being denied access to the site. When asked to follow-up the allegations in detail by the Environment Agency, she failed to do so.

The officer went back to Atcost Road with a colleague two months later, in April, but Athwal again denied them entry to her business and demanded money.

This time, Athwal made notes and did look at the officers’ cards, but still told them they weren’t coming in, claiming to video them on her mobile phone.

Following the second visit, Athwal invoiced the Environment Agency for £1,500 for “an inspection fee” and what she called “written descriptions”. However, the UK Environment Agency said it doesn’t pay any operator whose site it regulates.

In a letter Athwal sent the officers with the invoice, she blamed the handwritten notes on a speech impairment, but that was the first the inspectors had heard about it.

In July last year, five months after Athwal halted the first inspection and three months after she did it again, the Environment Agency summoned her to an interview. Athwal again demanded hundreds of pounds to attend, and even wanted her travel costs paid. The interview never took place.

The court heard that between February 24 and April 18, 2023, Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency officers in “the exercise or performance of their powers or duties”.

She was charged with breaching regulation 34(2) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016. The law explains how the Environment Agency has “a duty to make appropriate periodic inspections of regulated facilities to ensure that the operator is complying with their permit.”

In addition to the £3,000 fine, magistrates ordered Athwal to pay another GBP £3,000 in costs, and a victim surcharge of £1,200. (PTI)

Related Stories