Trespass - Judge Identifies Perpetrators of Vast Waste Dumping Operation

Waste dumping scars the landscape but it can be very hard to identify perpetrators, who commonly take steps to cover their tracks. In one case, however, a judge was able to pinpoint those responsible for depositing close to 20 tonnes of waste in a disused chalk quarry.

The dumping operation represented an enormous logistical exercise, involving about 1,000 lorry movements. Access to the quarry was obtained by bulldozing a corridor through an earth bund and, once deposited, the waste – including smelly household and commercial detritus – was carefully levelled and covered over with chalk. The breach in the bund was thereafter painstakingly repaired.

The quarry's owner launched proceedings, seeking damages for trespass, against an excavations company and its director. They wholly denied any involvement in the dumping operation, asserting that it was the work of persons unknown. A trial ensued, during which the judge conducted a site visit, accompanied by lawyers on both sides, which he found highly instructive.

Ruling on the matter, the judge noted that the company had the resources to carry out the works. It and other companies effectively controlled by its director owned a large fleet of tipper trucks and bulldozing equipment. The company was also in the business of waste management and was engaged in such a task on the day of the site visit.

Ruling the company liable, the High Court was impressed by the evidence of an overseer whose job it was to keep tabs on the quarry. He testified that he saw lorries bearing the company's markings reversing up to the corridor and tipping into the quarry material which he at first believed to be earth. The owner also presented other evidence, including photographs, in support of its case.

The company's director was found jointly liable. He kept close personal control over what was being done by and within his business empire and the Court found that it was a natural inference that the opening up of the corridor and the dumping exercise were conducted on his personal instructions. The company and its director were ordered to pay £765,094 in damages, together with interest and costs. That sum essentially represented the cost of removing the dumped waste.

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