Offenders undercut valid disposal firms in cash deals and dump the rubbish, say authorities
Police warn that organised crime groups are muscling in on the UK’s waste sector using corrupt officials, cash and violence.
Intelligence assessments indicate that 14 of the most dangerous gangs in Scotland are involved in the industry. The authorities say the number of gangs involved has more than doubled since 2012.
“The police will use all means necessary to impact on those organised crime groups in their own pursuit of profit,” said Detective Chief Superintendent John Cuddihy, Authorities Scotland’s head of organised crime and counterterrorism. “The police will never arrest our way out of the issue. We need to break the cycle.”
Senior police said the most effective gangs were undercutting valid operators by discounting environmental standards or avoiding tax by mixing high-harm waste – that attracts higher rates of taxation for dumping – with low-threat rubbish.
As a result, Scottish officials are considering the problem to be tackled by a specialist environmental court. Mr Cuddihy said top-tier criminal groups acted like sophisticated multinationals: “They run as a business and just apply their model to waste contracts, which they see as an emerging market for them with simpler accessibility to profit,” he said.
A Europol report in 2013 found that the crime was under- investigated across Europe and that only the Italian mafia are well-known for their participation in the waste sector.
The industry – which in many areas runs on a cash- only basis – has been utilized as a front to launder the profits of other crimes, said Willie Wilson, the head of enforcement at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Sepa.
Corrupt farmers have allowed their land to be utilized for tipping and abandoned and left industrial units have been filled. A number of the very harmful electrical waste was shipped abroad to Asia and Africa.
A business report – “Illegal export consequently offers the clearest evidence of waste crime’s increasing role as portion of a criminal gang’s portfolio of illegal activity,” it said.
The greatest punishment imposed by the Scottish courts so far was for the dumping of plastic and car tyres at a former colliery in West Lothian, in 2012. The rubbish was then buried.
An investigation finally resulted in the discovery of Scotland’s biggest illegal dump. The firm, Doonin Plant Ltd, was fined GBP200,000 and the company’s directors were last year barred from holding licences for running a transport business.
Sepa, which inquired the Armadale case, and also a number of other agencies are working with Police Scotland to map the threat from waste dumpers and criminal groups: “We’re currently investigating considerable amounts of waste on farmland, in industrial units and greenfield sites,” said Mr Wilson.
“We can see the presence of serious organised criminal gangs, particularly top-grade criminals embedded in the waste industry. That is certainly an important concern and threat.”
Authorities said that Doonin wasn’t linked to its database of organised crime groups in Scotland, highlighting what experts say was the mingling of the infiltration of the business by serious gangs as well as legitimate operators dumping.
The practice is part of an “entrenched and widespread” problem of illegal waste dumps, flytipping, sending hazardous waste abroad, and tax evasion that is believed to cost the UK economy GBP570m every year.
Police have also uncovered evidence of rival criminal groups collaborating to share info from corrupt pros with knowledge of the complicated procurement procedure. Scottish officials have ordered a review of the way waste contracts are given. It followed one “near miss”, when a council awarded a contract to a business without being told it was under investigation for waste offences.
An Environment Agency spokesman said waste offenses in England put legitimate companies and communities at risk and caused serious pollution.
“The prohibited waste sites taskforce was designed to be active for 18 months to find new means to interrupt illegal activities. The expertise and approaches developed by the taskforce are now employed by the Environment Agency, making us more powerful and enhancing our method of handling waste crime,” he said. The spokesman said at the end of the past financial year (March 2014) that this was the lowest amount in four years, and that there were 556 illegal waste sites that were effective.