THREE directors of a composting company which allowed toxic liquid to seep into the soil at a Ministry of Defence site in Gwent were given suspended prison sentences yesterday.
Wormtech Ltd, a company licensed to compost up to 75,000 tons of food waste at the site in Caerwent, had its Environment Agency (EA) Wales licence suspended in July 2012, after the body became aware of leechate – a liquid containing salmonella and E.coli which is produced from composting waste – leaking from a building.
Newport Crown Court heard yesterday from prosecutor Timothy Evans that despite environmental consultants being brought in, and some remedial work being done, it did not solve the problem, leaving the EA, now called Natural Resources Wales, with a £40,000 bill to tank away remaining leechate and clean-up costs of £600,000 to date, which is expected to top £1.6 million.
Jacqueline Powell, the primary director of Wormtech Ltd, was found guilty in January of one count of consenting to or conniving as a director of a company of treating, keeping or disposing of controlled waste on land in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment or harm to human health.
At the trial, Powell, 58, of Manor Way, Cardiff, was also convicted of two counts of consenting to or conniving as a director of a company of failing to comply with a condition of an environmental permit.
Yesterday Adam Vaitilingam, QC, defending Powell, said that in 2005/6 when the company was founded, the recycling industry was “fledgling” and that in hindsight, the MoD buildings were “anything but suitable”.
Powell was given three concurrent sentences of 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, by Judge Neil Bidder, and must complete 250 hours’ unpaid work.
She was disqualified from forming or managing a company for five years.
Fellow former director Jonathan Westwood, 38, of Wordsworth Road, Cardiff, who previously admitted three counts of failing to comply with an environmental permit, was described by his defence counsel, Peter Rouch, QC, as having been recruited to the company primarily for sales and recycling cardboard.
Westwood, who left the company as a director in August 2012 and is now going to college, was given three concurrent sentences of 32 weeks’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and must complete 150 hours’ unpaid work.
He was disqualified from forming or managing a company for three years.
Robert Baynton, 42, of Dan y Bryn, Gilwern, who also previously pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to comply with an environmental permit, was described by Judge Bidder as the least responsible in the case.
Baynton, who started at the company as a foreman before being offered the post of director of operations, only received a modest salary and now suffers from poor health, said Mark Battrick QC.
Baynton was given two concurrent prison sentences of 16 weeks, suspended for 12 months, and will receive no community penalty.
Judge Bidder said financial penalties may follow, once confiscation proceedings have finished. The matter will return to court in May to hear the confiscation proceedings.