Green energy entrepreneurs sentenced after fire

A North Yorkshire green energy entrepreneur and her partner have been sentenced for environmental offences following a major fire at a plastic recycling plant.

Laura Hepburn, 44, and convicted fraudster Jonathan Guy Brudenell, 53, of Sandsend near Whitby, set up a business called Greenology which they ran before the premises burned down in April 2020.

Teesside Crown Court heard the pair were investigated by the Environment Agency because the plant, near Redcar, was operating without a permit and the amount of waste stored there "vastly" exceeded agreed limits.

Hepburn was sentenced to two years, suspended, and Brudenell to two years and 10 months for offences including depositing waste without authorisation and illegally operating a regulated facility.

False name

At the time, officers warned them that plastic bales at the site were packed so tightly together that they presented a fire risk, but their advice was ignored.

The fire, which broke out during lockdown when residents living nearby could not be evacuated from their homes, effectively ended activities at the site and left its owner facing large financial losses.

Yet Hepburn quickly moved on to lease further land in Middlesbrough where she began recycling old tyres and continued to operate without authorisation.

The court was told that Brudenell had a senior management role at Greenology, but used the false name of "Guy Barker" because he had been under bankruptcy restrictions since 2009.

Hepburn acted as director.

Hepburn is a prominent businesswoman who has attended UN climate change conferences and been a panel speaker at environmental summits.

She told Middlesbrough Council that her ambition was to set up a pyrolysis plant where tyres could be turned into biofuel.

Both pleaded guilty to more than 14 offences, which also included keeping controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment and breaching a bankruptcy restrictions order.

Their pleas came after a resolution was reached with the Environment Agency prosecutors ahead of trial.

The judge said Hepburn "manipulated regulations" for financial gain and it was the "lack of adherence to fire regulations" that meant the blaze in April 2020 was so destructive and spread so quickly.

Hepburn and Brudenell were sentenced alongside Jonathan Waldron, 42, who had operated the Liverton site for a short period when concerns about waste storage were first raised.

He received 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, and was ordered to undertake 150 hours of unpaid work.

After he had "vanished" from the business, Hepburn, who had worked as his marketing manager, tried to blame him for the large amount of remaining plastic that she and Brudenell failed to remove.

The Environment Agency, whose officers told the court they had discovered a large fly infestation on the land at Liverton, confirmed that the cause of the fire that eventually destroyed the site was still unknown.

Although the defendants were not suspected of starting it, their handling of the plastic, some of which was kept close to the main office building, made the fire difficult to fight and enabled it to spread quickly.

Their landlord, Brian Waugh, said that Hepburn and Brudenell defaulted on rent payments and falsely claimed to have buildings insurance.

He said the fire had "wiped out" his assets and that the couple had refused to assist him afterwards.

The judge declined to order compensation as he said it was impossible to measure "the true level of loss".

However, fines totalling more than £103,000 were issued against three companies involved - Greenology (Liverton), Greenology (Teesside) and SESL.

The court was told that Hepburn had no previous convictions, although offences committed at the Greenology tyre business took place when she was already on bail in relation to the Liverton investigation.

She was also ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work.

Waldron, of Winton, Northallerton, and Brudenell met in prison, and Brudenell has multiple convictions for fraud and dishonesty.

Waldron has served a jail term for robbery.

Gary Wallace, Area Environment Manager for the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “All of those sentenced have shown a complete disregard for environmental laws, which are there to protect people and the environment.

“The walls of waste resulted in two major fires, impacting on the environment and causing misery for local residents."

He added: “Waste criminals cause distress to our communities and can destroy the environment and this case demonstrates that we’ll do everything in our power to ensure they are brought to justice for their crimes.”

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