Northern Ireland

Directors given suspended sentences for dumping asbestos waste

Belfast court complex
Image caption Samuel James Shields and Roy Millar Molyneaux pleaded guilty to a total of 14 charges at Belfast Crown Court

Two company directors have received suspended sentences for dumping tonnes of hazardous asbestos waste at a former factory site in south Belfast.

Appearing at Belfast Crown Court were Samuel James Shields, 77, and Roy Millar Molyneaux, 61.

They pleaded guilty to a total of 14 charges of keeping, depositing and controlling unlawful waste between August 2008 and October 2012.

Both men were sentenced to six months in prison suspended for two years.

The judge also imposed conditional charges against their two companies on charges of keeping, depositing and controlling unlawful waste.

A prosecution barrister told the court that the pair owned former factory units at Maldon Street in the Village area off the Donegall Road, and ordered them to be demolished.

Shields, of Culcavy Road, Hillsborough, County Down, was the director of Belfast-based Brackhill Ltd, which owned three-quarter of the units.

Molyneaux, of Andersons Hill, Newtownards, County Down, who was a director of Ards-based firm Sloan Molyneaux Holdings Ltd, owned the remainder of the site.

'Potentially harmful'

The lawyer told Judge Donna McColgan QC: "This site was not secured and trespass from the neighbouring area occurred causing further damage to the asbestos waste and spread of asbestos fibres.

"The condition of the site meant that contamination of persons and vehicles trespassing on the site would have been potentially harmful to human health from inhalation and ingestion of asbestos fibres.''

The court heard that on 10 August, 2010, officers from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) visited the site and found a "significant quantity of asbestos-contaminated waste, a large exposed pile of corrugated asbestos sheeting and further asbestos debris scattered throughout the site."

The prosecution said NIEA twice wrote to Shields as director of Brackhill Ltd advising him that it was an offence to store contaminated waste on the site.

"On 18 October, 2010, officers from the environmental crime unit (ECU) entered the unsecured Maldon Street site where they observed a large pile of corrugated asbestos sheeting, bags containing asbestos tiles, a derelict factory building and a significant quantity of mixed demolition waste,'' the prosecution lawyer said.

"Samples taken from the sheeting and tile were later confirmed by analysis to contain white asbestos.''

Inspection

Judge McColgan QC was told that on 13 January, 2011, NIEA officers visited the site and observed demolition waste being burned and a digger from John Lewis Contracts demolishing the derelict building.

The lawyer added: "On 9 February, 2011, officers from the Health and Safety Executive visited the site and suspended work due to the presence of asbestos materials which require a licence.

"In March 2011, Belfast City Council secured a court order under the Public Health Act.''

"Between April and September 2011, Belfast City Council undertook to secure the site, carry out works on dangerous structures and remove high-risk areas of asbestos-containing materials to mitigate the risks to public health.''

The prosecution lawyer said a survey for the council revealed that around 510 sq metres of asbestos insulation board was found within a dangerous structure on the site along with a further 350 sq metres of badly-damaged asbestos curtain walling along the perimeter of the site.

"Tests of the surrounding area, including a local primary school, thankfully showed no asbestos contamination,'' the lawyer added.

As a result, he said, a total of 66 tonnes of asbestos material was removed by specialist contractors at a cost of over £280,000 to the council.

The court heard that the council is currently pursuing Shields and Molyneaux through the magistrates' court to recover the £280,000.

It was also revealed in court that on 20 December, 2011, the NIEA issued a second notice to Brackhill Ltd to remove the asbestos sheeting by 31 January 2012 and asbestos-contaminated demolition waste by 31 March.

"On 6 March, 2012, NIEA officers inspected the site and noted that all waste previously observed remained,'' the court heard.

The judge was told that John Lewis Contracts pleaded guilty to failing to deal properly with the situation and was given a six-month sentence suspended for two years.

The prosecution lawyer added:"It is accepted that the culpability of the present defendant cannot be greater than that of John Lewis Contracts who actually carried out the work in the knowledge from previous surveys that the site contained asbestos."

Defence barristers for Shields and Molyneaux asked the judge to take their guilty pleas to all charges into consideration for sentencing.

A lawyer for Molyneaux said he had at one stage run a successful clothing factory on the site employing 80 people.

However, he said that the company was forced to close when cheaper clothing was being produced in the Far East.

"He was left with a building which was derelict. There was nothing wrong with the building until the demolition work started.

"He didn't have all due diligence as his wife was very ill at the time. He should have taken more care but he didn't,'' added his barrister.