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Waste boss fined for obstructing site checks

19 February 2024

THE OWNER of a waste treatment plant in Barking barred environment inspectors from entering the site unless they handed over thousands of pounds in bogus fees.

But Gurjit Athwal, director of Keep Green Ltd, is now the one with the bill, fined £3,000 with more than double again in costs and other court charges. It’s the result of twice refusing entry to officers from the Environment Agency.

One of the officers called at Keep Green in Atcost Road in February last year. She wanted to check operations were within the conditions of Keep Green’s environmental permit to treat household, commercial and industrial waste and pollution-control measures were in place.

The Environment Agency 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.

Barkingside magistrates’ court heard Athwal stopped the female officer from entering the premises in a busy industrial area north of the river. Athwal demanded £500 and insurance documents from the officer before she would let her in.

Environment Agency staff have powers of entry to visit and inspect any location that holds a permit to operate and do not pay sites they regulate. Refusal to let inspections take place is a criminal offence.      

Athwal wouldn’t even speak to the official. Instead, she stated her refusal to allow the inspection without payment in a handwritten note. She also wrote down the word “malfeasance,” but didn’t elaborate when challenged by the official if she was making an allegation.  

The officer left, having explained to Athwal why she was there, but the 51-year-old wouldn’t listen or look at the officer’s authorisation card, which listed her powers as an Environment Agency member of staff.

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."

Athwal later made a number of unsubstantiated claims about the officer in writing, saying she abused her position, adding the Environment Agency official had lied about being denied access to the site. When asked to follow-up the allegations in detail by the Environment Agency, she failed to do so.      

The officer went back to Atcost Road with a colleague two months later, in April, but Athwal again denied them entry to her business and demanded money. This time, Athwal made notes and did look at the officers’ cards, but still told them they weren’t coming in, claiming to video them on her mobile phone.     

Following the second visit, Athwal invoiced the Environment Agency for £1,500 for “an inspection fee” and what she called “written descriptions.” The Environment Agency doesn’t pay any operator whose site it regulates.

In a letter Athwal sent the officers with the invoice, she blamed the handwritten notes on a speech impairment, but that was the first the inspectors had heard about it.

In July last year, five months after Athwal halted the first inspection and three months after she did it again, the Environment Agency summoned her to an interview. Athwal again demanded hundreds of pounds to attend, and even wanted her travel costs paid. The interview never took place.    

The court heard that between 24 February and 18 April 2023, Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency officers in “the exercise or performance of their powers or duties.”

She was charged with breaching sections 110(1) and 110(4)(b) of the Environment Act 1995.

In addition to the £3,000 fine, magistrates ordered Athwal, of Cavendish Gardens, in Barking, to pay another £3,000 in costs, and a victim surcharge of £1,200. Victim surcharges ensure that offenders hold some responsibility towards the cost of supporting victims and witnesses.

Athwal failed to attend the hearing at Barkingside magistrates’ court on 30 January, and was sentenced in absentia.