A father and daughter have been sentenced after a fire at their removals business near Bishop Auckland caused homes to be evacuated and serious property damage.
68-year-old Malcolm Smith of Norwich Grove, Darlington and his 38-year-old daughter Lisa Palmer of Eggleston View, Darlington, received suspended sentences and were fined after admitting a number of charges.
Magistrates said the duo acted 'recklessly' by inappropriately storing 50,000 litres of diesel, within a close proximity of residential properties.
The pair's actions caused a large fire at Ramshaw Storage removals firm on Swan Street on 14 June 2018.
County Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue Service received reports of a rubbish on fire within a metal container.
Crews were told told the container was used to store furniture from removals when, in reality, the units were being used to illegally store 50,000 litres of diesel.
The scale of the fire meant numerous properties within the site's vicinity were evacuated, with people unable to return until the following day.
Seven properties on Newholme Crescent were inhabitable for six months because of diesel contamination, odour and firewater run-off.
Investigations found the fire polluted land and ground water as significant amounts of oil had ended up in the sewerage network.
18,000 litres of oil were recovered from the local sewage plant, and Northumbrian Water spent at least £66,000 ensuring that the local water supply was safe.
Ground-floor properties nearby needed diesel to be pumped from under their floorboards and asbestos from the building yard was found also found in local gardens. The contamination meant a metre of soil needed removing to make them safe.
The magistrates found both acted recklessly and were wilfully blind to the risks of storing such large quantities of oil.
Smith and Palmer admitted to failing to comply with the Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) Regulations 2001, and also admitted responsibility for causing groundwater pollution, due to the illegally stored diesel escaping.
Palmer admitted a third charge related to illegal waste burning, which is what started the large fire in 2018.
Another family member, who denied the charges, was acquitted by the court after it found they had no control over keeping the oil or its storage.
Smith was given a 23-week suspended sentence, whilst his daughter received an 18-week suspended sentence. The duo were both fined £500 and made to pay a £128 victim surcharge.
The Environment Agency said: "Businesses must take their environmental responsibilities seriously.
"We welcome this judgement and hope that it sends out a strong message to others that they will be held to account if they fail to meet their environmental obligations.
"Thanks to the swift response from the various agencies who attended the incident, even more widespread damage to property and river pollution was averted.
"Anyone caught breaching environmental laws faces enforcement action, up to and including prosecution."
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