Prison sentences for fly-tippers as government announces new 'waste police' unit

Helena Horton
Theresa Villiers said the new taskforce would crack down on fly-tippers - Jeremy Warner

Fly-tippers will face prison, the environment secretary has said, as the government announces a new "waste police" unit.

The Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) will for the first time bring together law enforcement agencies, environmental regulators, HMRC and the National Crime Agency in order to tackle fly-tipping and mislabeling of hazardous waste.

In recent years,  there appears to have been a steady rise in organised, large-scale waste crime, a Defra spokesperson said. 

This is partly because of confusion around rubbish collection, as criminal gangs run registered companies, get the appropriate licences and display the correct certificates. This, the government says, "provides a veil of legitimacy for crime".

While this is waste crime, it is also fraud as customers are duped into using seemingly legitimate businesses. Because of this, HMRC's Fraud Unit has joined the new taskforce.

The organised criminal activity highlighted by Defra includes dumping hazardous materials on private land and falsely labelling waste so it can be exported abroad to unsuspecting countries.

Serious and organised waste crime is estimated to cost the UK economy at least £600 million a year and a 2018 Home Office review found that perpetrators are often involved in other serious criminal activity, including large scale fraud and in some cases modern slavery.

Local councils have complained in the past that it is difficult for them to tackle fly-tipping alone and that sentences for the crime are too lenient.

A report last year found that no one convicted of fly-tipping has been given the maximum £50,000 fine or 12 months in prison since ministers introduced new guidelines in 2014.

Now, the new government unit will conduct site inspections, make arrests and prosecutions and, upon conviction, push for heavy fines and custodial sentences.

With local police forces involved, the unit can more easily share intelligence about crimes so they can take swifter action when investigating criminal waste operations and other connected illegal activities, such as money laundering, fraud and human trafficking.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said the unit would "make criminals pay" for waste crime.

She explained: “Waste crime is a scourge on our environment and this new Joint Unit for Waste Crime will crack down on the criminals responsible.

“Criminals are shifting their focus to waste crime as they expand their illegal activities and it’s vital that we take action. The Joint Unit will shut down illegal waste sites, catch criminals before they can do further harm to our environment and local communities, and make them pay for the damage they have done through custodial sentences and the payment of compensation.”

The new task force was formed after a 2018 Home Office report which made the link between waste crime and other organised crimes.

Steve Thomas, Detective Superintendent at North Yorkshire Police, added“The Joint Unit for Waste Crime will provide a valuable link for police forces who are tackling organised waste crime and those who use waste management as an illegal enterprise or as a front for money laundering.

“I look forward to seeing the development of our relationship with Joint Unit partners in a bid to disrupt and dismantle these criminal organisations and their harmful activities.”