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Derbyshire company fined and its boss jailed over canal pollution which killed thousands of fish

A Derbyshire recycling firm has today been ordered to pay more than £47,000 in fines and costs and its director jailed for polluting a canal, killing thousands of fish.

Around 6km of the Erewash Canal was poisoned when a major blaze broke out at Arcwood Recycling Ltd in Ilkeston in September.

Firefighters were on the scene for nine days, and gallons of contaminated water ran off into the canal.

The Arcwood Recycling Ltd homepage Credit: Arcwood Recycling Ltd

It followed months of criticism and complaints from the Environment Agency, Derbyshire Fire and Rescue and nearby residents about the quantity and type of waste being stored at its site in Lows Lane, Stanton-by-Dale.

Arcwood was fined a total of £8,000 for the Environment Agency case, plus £42,000 for breaching fire safety regulations.

The firm was also ordered to pay £7,500 in costs, while 36-year-old company director Luke Barker was given an immediate 10-month prison sentence.

He has been banned from being a director for eight years.

Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency officer said the firm's failure to make improvements when they were first raised had cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds in repair work.

We had spoken with the operators on a number of occasions, seeking action to address our concerns about poor management of the site.

By not taking our advice, there has been a significant impact on local wildlife, as well as the high costs of responding to the incident.

This prosecution demonstrates that we will not hesitate to prosecute those who put human health and the environment at risk.

Saint Gobain - the owners of the site - received numerous complaints over the amount of wood being stored at Arcwood Credit: Google Maps

Barker took over at the company in May 2012, changing the name from A1 Wood Recycling Ltd to Arcwood.

Throughout 2012, Environment Agency officer reported concerns over "poor or non-existent" management systems for the site - including too much wood to be stored properly and separately.

Waste was also being stored for lengthy periods of time, breaching its three-month limit set out in the conditions of its permit, and a breach report was sent in July.

Fire officers also expressed concerns over the size of the timber pile, and gave Barker advice on how to separate the wood into different piles to help stop a fire spreading should it break out.

Numerous complaints were sent to Saint Gobain - the owners of the site - about damage to the perimeter fences due to the sheer quantity of wood being stored there.

The fire broke out on September 15, 2012, and due to the size of the blaze firefighters were still there on September 24, when Barker helped by using machinery to create breaks in the fire.

Firefighting water spilled into the canal and killed thousands of fish.

The location of Arcwood Recycling Ltd Credit: Google Maps

The Environment Agency spent an estimated £200,000 re-oxygenating the water and reduce the impact on the environment.

An action plan was drawn up by Derbyshire Fire and Rescue to allow Barker to monitor the remaining small fires and allow them to burn out - but on October 8 of that year, mobile phone footage revealed wooden pallets were being deliberately burned on site. A suspension notice was served.

Throughout, Barker failed to respond to requests to be interviewed by the Environment Agency - and His Honour Judge Gosling at Derby Crown Court today told him his "flagrant disregard" for warnings had contributed to the "catastrophic" fire.

In sentencing, the judge took into account the fact guilty pleas were entered at the earliest opportunity, and there was no loss of human life.

Nobody from Arcwood - which has now ceased trading - was today available for comment.