A large waste plant on the outskirts of Londonderry has been closed following an investigation by both the police and the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland (DoENI).
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said that the plant’s illegal operations were “immense and appalling”, and confirmed that the charges relate to activity as far back as 2009.
The investigation was launched in 2012 following information that led to an illegal landfill site being uncovered. Suspicions arose when bubbles that may have been caused by the release of methane gas were spotted emerging from a pond. Further examination revealed hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste that had been covered with clay, sand and topsoil. Four separate sites were analysed, and several landowners have been served notices relating to the activity.
It is thought to be the first time that a waste management facility has had its licence revoked, with all operations set to cease from the evening of Wednesday 05 June. The site’s operators have then been granted a two month period in which they must deliver all of the remaining waste to a legal landfill site to be disposed of in the appropriate manner.
Mr Attwood said: “This [investigation] has been painstaking work with the aim of maximising the chances of dealing a big blow to serious criminality and a big blow to environmental vandalism. My Department has decisively moved against unlawful waste activity in Northern Ireland, and last year I instructed the environmental police to undertake a full scale investigation.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood – “…the scale of this means it involved organised crime. Where I find proper grounds to move against any waste operators who may be involved, I will do so”
“The message of today is crystal clear: The Department of the Environment stated that businesses and those responsible for managing waste have a legal responsibility to make sure their waste is managed legally – an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to waste management is bad business practice, harmful to our environment and could result in hefty penalties in Court.
“The scale of this is clearly well organised, the scale of this means it involved organised crime. Where I find proper grounds to move against any waste operators who may be involved, I will do so.
“As with all illegal activity and to help combat any future harm to the environment, we would appeal for people to come forward and provide any information they may have to the NIEA to help us to stop this illegality.”
Mr Attwood has also refused to rule out the possible involvement of paramilitary gangs in the alleged operation.