Greenology: Whitby couple convicted of running unsafe recycling site – BBC News

Image source, Environment Agency

Image caption, Bales of plastic stored at Greenology in Liverton before the fire

  • Author, Grace Newton
  • Role, BBC news

A North Yorkshire green energy entrepreneur and her partner have been convicted of environmental crimes following a major fire at a plastics recycling factory.

Laura Hepburn, 44, and convicted fraudster Jonathan Guy Brudenell, 53, from Sandsend near Whitby, set up a business called Greenology which they ran before the premises burned down in April 2020.

Teesside Crown Court heard the pair were investigated by the Environment Agency because the factory, near Redcar, was operating without a permit and the amount of waste stored there “vastly” exceeded agreed limits.

Hepburn was sentenced to two years’ probation, and Brudenell to two years and 10 months for offenses including unauthorized dumping of waste and illegally operating a regulated facility.

Fake name

At the time, officers warned them that plastic bales at the site were packed so tightly together that they posed a fire hazard, but their advice was ignored.

The fire, which broke out during the lockdown when local residents could not be evacuated from their homes, effectively put an end to activities at the site and caused the owner to suffer major financial losses.

Yet Hepburn quickly moved on to lease even more land in Middlesbrough, where she began recycling old tires and continuing to operate without permission.

The court was told Brudenell held a senior management role at Greenology but used the false name “Guy Barker” because he had been under bankruptcy restrictions since 2009.

Hepburn acted as director.

Hepburn is a prominent businesswoman who has attended UN conferences on climate change and been a panel speaker at environmental summits.

She told Middlesbrough Council that her ambition was to set up a pyrolysis plant where tires could be turned into biofuel.

Both pleaded guilty to more than 14 offences, including storing controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment and breaching a bankruptcy order.

Their pleas came after a pre-trial resolution was reached with Environment Agency prosecutors.

The judge said Hepburn “manipulated the regulations” for financial gain and that the “lack of compliance with fire regulations” allowed the April 2020 fire to be so destructive and spread so quickly.

Hepburn and Brudenell were convicted along with Jonathan Waldron, 42, who had operated the Liverton site for a short time when concerns about waste storage first emerged.

He was jailed for 20 months, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work.

After he ‘disappeared’ from the company, Hepburn, who had worked as a marketing manager, tried to blame him for the large amount of leftover plastic that she and Brudenell failed to remove.

Image source, Environment Agency

Image caption, Despite warnings from the Environment Agency, waste continued to be delivered to the site

The Environment Agency, whose officers told the court they had discovered a major fly infestation on land near Liverton, confirmed the cause of the fire that eventually destroyed the property was still unknown.

Although the defendants were not suspected of starting the fire, their handling of the plastic, some of which was kept close to the headquarters, made the fire difficult to fight and spread quickly.

Their landlord, Brian Waugh, said Hepburn and Brudenell had defaulted on rent payments and falsely claimed to have buildings insurance.

He said the fire had “wiped out” his belongings and the couple had refused to help him afterwards.

The judge refused to order damages, saying it was impossible to measure “the actual level of loss.”

Image source, Environment Agency

Image caption, The fire in 2020 completely destroyed the site

However, fines totaling more than £103,000 were imposed on three companies involved: Greenology (Liverton), Greenology (Teesside) and SESL.

The court was told Hepburn had no previous convictions, although the offenses at the Greenology tire business occurred when she was already on bail in connection with the Liverton investigation.

She was also ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work.

Waldron, from Winton, Northallerton, and Brudenell met in prison, and Brudenell has multiple convictions for fraud and dishonesty.

Waldron has served a prison sentence for theft.

Image source, North Yorkshire Police

Image caption, Jonathan Guy Brudenell has already served a prison sentence for business and romance fraud

Gary Wallace, Area Environment Manager for the North East Environment Agency, said: “All those convicted have shown a complete disregard for environmental laws, which are there to protect people and the environment.

“The walls of waste resulted in two major fires, which impacted the environment and caused misery for local residents.”

He added: “Waste criminals cause misery to our communities and can destroy the environment. This case shows that we will do everything in our power to ensure they are brought to justice for their crimes.”

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