Tyre pyre fire-risk

The men running a recycling business in West Sussex let old tyres pile up at their yard, making them extremely flammable, a court has been told.

Gerard Harkin and Dex Boyle, both from Portsmouth, recovered scrap tyres at Twyford Recycling Ltd beside a busy road and railway in Chichester. The company was prosecuted for operating without an environmental permit.

The Environment Agency gave Harkin and Boyle several warnings about safety in 2020 and 2021, including orders to stop work because the site on Appledram Business Park was deemed a fire-risk.

Brighton magistrates’ court heard investigators began looking into the company 2 years ago after the agency received an anonymous complaint.

A member of the public was concerned Twyford Recycling was breaking the law in how it stored thousands of tyres collected from other businesses along the south coast.

A huge pile of tyres is stacked up

The tyres catching light could have caused problems for traffic on the A27, the railway line and the valuable habitats of the River Lavant, all within yards of the plant.

The Environment Agency discovered frequent problems at the site. Surplus tyres piled high created the risk of fire close to the A27 dual carriageway and the Chichester-to-Portsmouth railway line.

The nearby River Lavant added to investigators’ insistence Twyford Recycling brought its operation into line. Designated habitats for protected eels, sticklebacks and other wildlife dependent on the chalk stream were just 150 yards away.

At the end of 2020, the Environment Agency put the volume of tyres at the disorganised site at 50 tonnes. Little or no attempt was made by the company to reduce the chances of the huge mound catching fire.

Boyle, a 33-year-old director of Twyford’s, and Harkin, 58, described in interviews as “running the company,” were warned they were breaking the law and should stop receiving more tyres, but they took no notice. How the compound was managed barely changed as 2021 came in.

Ian Jackson is an environmental crime officer at the Environment Agency. He said:

After frequent warnings, orders to stop work and plenty of advice and guidance from the Environment Agency, legal action was necessary as Dex Boyle and Gerard Harkin continued to break the law.

Twyford Recycling, under the direction of those men, put the needs of the business first.

You cannot operate without the necessary environmental protections in place. Harkin and Boyle’s denial they were doing anything wrong was staggering.

The pair blamed haphazard storage on contractors and even the pandemic. They didn’t like the agency’s scrutiny, either. Boyle ordered an environmental crime officer off the site during one inspection.

Officers made several more visits to the yard either side of Christmas 2020 in an effort to get Twyford Recycling to handle tyres legally. They were also concerned by broken fencing, allowing unauthorised access.

As well as the ramshackle way the tyres were stockpiled, the company’s documentation for handling them was poor.

Investigators ordered Twyford Recycling to provide a record for all its transactions in the 6 months from November 2020.

Waste transfer notes are designed to keep a log of material as it passes between businesses, to protect the environment, showing full details of who’s disposing of waste, how much and who’s collecting it.

Dozens of the notes the Environment Agency demanded from Harkin and Boyle were incomplete – some failed to show how many tyres they were taking in, when and from where.

The papers also proved Harkin and Boyle acted in defiance of the Environment Agency’s order to stop handling tyres because of an inability to protect the environment.

Fast-forward to March 2021, and in an unannounced visit, an environmental crime officer noticed large plumes of black smoke as he drove past. The officer found Harkin burning metal and plastic. By the May, the tyre stock had doubled in size to at least 100 tonnes, compared to late 2020.

When the Environment Agency went back in July last year, there were “too many tyres” without fire breaks, Boyle instructed an officer to leave, despite the official having a legal right to be there.

Another letter ordering the company to stop all processing of waste tyres was sent, but investigators still believed there were 80 tonnes in place at the end of last year.

A huge pile of tyres is stacked up

Legal action was inevitable after company bosses ignored countless warnings from the Environment Agency about the risk of fire

Harkin and Boyle both pleaded guilty to allowing Twyford Recycling Ltd to deposit, treat and store tyres outside the company’s environmental permit, against regulations 12 (1), 38 (1)(a) and 41 (1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2016. The offences took place between 29 November 2020 and 5 February 2021, and from 15 March to 28 July last year.

Twyford Recycling Ltd, of Plot F, Appledram Business Park, in Chichester, admitted 3 charges, including 2 of operating between those dates in 2020 and 2021, in breach of regulations 12 and 38 (1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.

The company also pleaded guilty to failing to provide waste transfer notes of tyres brought in and out of the business park on or before 21 May 2021, against section 34 (5) and (6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and regulation 35 (6) of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

Twyford Recycling Ltd was fined £500 by Brighton magistrates’ court on 6 December 2022, paying £500 in costs and a victim surcharge of £50.

Harkin, of Twyford Avenue, and Boyle, of Wymering Road, both in Portsmouth, were each given 40 hours of unpaid work.

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