Firm says £75,000 fine is ‘too high’

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A compost company claims the £75,000 fine it was given for supplying a Dales farm with contaminated material was too steep.

Vital Earth admitted to three charges of depositing controlled waste on land without a permit between March 10 and April 13 2011 at Derby Magistrates’ Court.

The firm had supplied a farmer with compost to be used on land off Dark Lane, Wirksworth, and Hob Lane, Kirk Ireton, as well as another site in Belper.

He was informed by the company that compost fully complied with environmental legislation, however later noticed high levels of plastic contamination in it, including items such as kitchen knives, bottle tops and cigarette lighters.

Environment Agency officers who attended the scene found the average level of contaminant in the compost to be between six and ten times the permitted limit.

In interview, the company acknowledged that the field was in a poor condition and that their processes needed to be improved.

The company, based in Ashbourne, was also ordered to pay £13,535.26 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency officer said: “This is a serious environmental crime.

“By depositing controlled waste Vital Earth have fallen significantly short of their environmental duties.

“We will not hesitate to prosecute in such cases.”

A statement released by the company said: “Vital Earth recognise that poor quality control procedures during a short period in the latter part of 2010 led to the unfortunate delivery of compost not of suitable quality that was deposited on three fields in March/April 2011.

“Since the matter was brought to light Vital Earth has worked tirelessly to remediate the affected land bringing it back to its pristine condition prior to the error being made which is now the position and compensated the farmer in question.

“Additionally major changes have been made to the working practices at its site in Ashbourne to ensure that this doesn’t happen again including the construction of new storage bays to prevent cross contamination.

“We were pleased to note the judges’ comments in recognition that we caused no long term environmental damage, have taken substantial steps since the incident to ensure it doesn’t happen again, plead guilty at the earliest opportunity and have no previous convictions.

“Vital Earth apologises unreservedly for the actions that led to the incident and reiterates its position to be an environmentally responsible business providing recycling services and turning that recycled product into an award winning peat free compost for the agricultural and horticultural markets.

“Although accepting our guilt we do feel the size of the fine is exceptionally high given the actions we’ve taken since the incident and no lasting damage caused so are considering our options to appeal against the size of the fine.”