The owner of a waste treatment plant in Barking has been fined £3,000 after denying Environment Agency inspectors entry to the site unless they paid her £1,500.
Gurjit Athwal, 51, Director of Keep Green, stopped the Environment Agency officer from entering the premises and demanded £500 and insurance documents from the officer before letting them onto the premises.
The same officer returned with a colleague two months later but Athwal denied them entry and demanded money again. Following the second visit by officers, Athwal invoiced the Environment Agency £1,500 for “an inspection fee” and what she called “written descriptions”.
In July last year, five months after Athwal halted the first inspection and three months after the follow-up visit, the Environment Agency summoned her to an interview. Athwal demanded money to attend and requested her travel costs be paid. The interview never took place.
Environment Agency staff have powers of entry to visit and inspect any location that holds a permit to operate. They do not pay money to sites they regulate and refusing to let inspections take place is a criminal offence.
Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency staff carrying out their work to keep communities safe.
Barkingside magistrates’ court heard that Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency officers in “the exercise or performance of their powers or duties”. The court fined Athwal £3,000 and ordered her to pay another £3,000 in costs, and a victim surcharge of £1,200. Athwal failed to attend the hearing and was sentenced in her absence.
During the first visit, the Environment Agency said Athwal refused to speak to the officer and explained her refusal to allow the inspection without payment in a handwritten note. She also wrote down the word “malfeasance” but didn’t elaborate when asked by the official if she was making an allegation.
Officers were called to Keep Green to check operations were within the conditions of the business’s environmental permit to treat household, commercial and industrial waste and that pollution-control measures were in place. The Environment Agency said it was concerned about the amount of waste stored at the site on the banks of the Thames since the last visual check six months before.
Athwal made several claims about the Environment Agency officer in writing, including that she abused her position and that the official lied about being denied access to the site. When asked to follow up the allegations in detail, the Environment Agency said she failed to do so.
Reacting to the sentencing, Barry Russell, environment manager for the Environment Agency in north and east London, said: “One of the most direct ways the Environment Agency can ensure companies like Keep Green operate without harming the environment is through inspecting waste sites and other commercial operations.
“Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency staff carrying out their work to keep communities safe. Her £3,000 fine will hopefully show her and others that her actions were unacceptable. My officers must be able to inspect permitted sites.
“Our investigation into how the waste operation is run at Atcost Road continues, although the permit to treat waste there is now held by a third party.”