A major waste facility in Derry has been shut amid allegations of “immense and appalling” illegal dumping operations run by organised criminals.
The scale of the alleged illegal operation by a licensed waste disposal operator in the city runs into “many, many millions of pounds”, Environment Minister Alex Attwood told a press conference in Derry this lunchtime.
Closure notice was served on the business this morning at 9.30am, ordering that it cease operations by this evening. It’s alleged that alleged illegal dumping of a kind never before uncovered in Northern Ireland took place on four different sites adjacent to a regulated site in the Mobouy area at Campsie, outside the city. The lands under investigation have several different owners on whom notices ordering remedial action to be taken have also been served.
Mr Attwood said the alleged illegal operation was “environmental vandalism” at its worst.
He said the licence granted to the operator of the major waste facility in the North West was revoked following an “unprecedented investigation into allegations of large scale criminal offending involving the disposal of waste”.
“My department has decisively moved today against unlawful waste activity in Northern Ireland. Following receipt of intelligence last year I instructed the environmental police within my Department – the Environmental Crime Unit – to undertake a full-scale investigation (known as “Operation Sycamore”) into activities at the Derry site. This has been painstaking work with the aim of maximizing the chances of dealing a big blow to serious criminality and a big blow to environmental vandalism.
“The scale of the unlawful waste activity is immense and appalling and dates back at least until 2009. It is sophisticated in its deception. Material was mangled and shredded to hide its original sourcing, with illegal landfills being top-filled with soil and clay to deceive and hide illegal waste.”
He said he could “not rule out” the possible involvement of paramilitary gangs in the alleged operation.
“Not just tens but some hundreds of thousands of tons of waste have been illegally deposited in a number of areas of land in the Mobouy area, just outside Derry. The scale of this is clearly well organized – the scale of this means it involves organized crime. Where I find proper grounds to move against any waste operators who may be involved, I will do so.”
Operation Sycamore has already resulted in the arrest of two individuals in connection with alleged offences and further arrests are expected as the operation continues. A number of individuals, businesses and land folios are the subject of the investigation.
Once the waste management facility has ceased to operate, which it is required to do from close of operations this evening, it is then required over a period of two months to deliver all waste remaining to a legal landfill site for disposal.
Other notices have been served today on the landowners of land used for the disposal of waste requiring them to take action to prevent environmental damage by removing polluting liquid from the waste for disposal elsewhere.
The investigation is continuing and will result in the submission of a prosecution case file to the Public Prosecution Service. The NIEA Environmental Crime Unit has requested that anyone with information about suspicious movements of waste in the Northwest (either in the past or currently) to report what they know to NIEA, PSNI or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.