Ben Thomas represents the Environment Agency in successful prosecution North East waste site owner.

Ben Thomas prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency secured a sentence of 30 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months. 200 hours unpaid work and 20 days rehabilitation activity work with the Probation Service. HHJ Edward Legard who was sitting at Newcastle Crown Court also imposed a £5000 fine for fly tipping offences and the defendant was ordered to pay almost £12,000 in prosecution costs.

The court heard that waste kept illegally on the site in Birtley caught fire in February 2022, five months after the Environment Agency secured a court order to shut it down due to fire risk.

The blaze saw the East Coast rail line closed, schools shut down, residents told to stay indoors and local businesses disrupted with a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds. More than 250 fire fighters and 10 appliances were deployed at the blaze.

The defendant had a previous history of environmental offending and was operating a facility for waste storage without a permit and not complying with waste exceptions.

Over a period of nine months conducted numerous inspections which showed that waste was being store illegally and in a manner that caused a huge fire risk. The waste store also included hazardous materials. Nothing was done to clear the site and the Defendant continued to bring waste onto the site. Eventually the EA applied for a Restriction Order closing down the site and prohibiting the Defendant having access. While that was in place a fire started at the site causing extensive damage and requiring significant fire fighting resources.

The Defence argued that as the site had been closed down and the Defendant prohibited from having access he could not be held responsible for the fire and the consequences. The Judge rejected that argument in favour of the prosecutions  submission that as a result of the defendant operating the site in the way he did the risk of fire was increased significantly and that the reason the fire was so extensive and catastrophic was directly related to the way he had run the site.

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Ben is joint head of PSQB’s Consumer Protection Team. He is regularly instructed by local authorities to advise on prosecution and to conduct cases on their behalf. These have included prosecutions under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. He is currently jointly instructed by both the Environment Agency and a local authority to advise on prosecution of a waste site, which has attracted considerable local attention and political concern. He is currently advising a local authority in relation to a fatal accident that occurred at a hotel.

Ben has experience of prosecuting and defending prosecutions brought by the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and of prosecutions brought by the Environment Agency. He is also instructed by the Food Standards Agency and has also defended such prosecutions.

He has developed a niche practice in prosecuting cases investigated by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the Forestry Act 1967 and is often asked to advise on jurisdictional issues regarding such cases and in relation to the time limit under Section 17 (2). Such work has involved travel throughout England and Wales.

He is often asked to advise early on and has developed excellent relationships with those instructing.

He is also regularly instructed by local authorities to advise and represent in relation to all other areas of their work. These include alcohol licencing, taxi licencing and abatement notices.

Ranked as a Leading Junior for Business and Regulatory Crime(Health & Safety) in The Legal 500 (2023)

Ben communicates well and has a very calm manner with clients. He quickly identifies the key issues in a case.’

Should you wish to discuss any aspect of  Ben’s  practice please contact his clerks.

Madeleine Gray on 0113 202 8603

Patrick Urbina 0113 213 250

Lucy Burgin  on  0113 2135213