Lights, Camera, Action! How the County is winning the war on fly-tippers

  |  Published: May 11th 2018

The idyllic country settings across Buckinghamshire, used for so many films and TV productions like the classic Midsomer Murders series, are threatened by a growing crime-wave.

Hidden cameras in the beautiful lanes and remote lay-bys of the County are snaring an increasing number of fly-tippers who litter the fields, woods, roads and verges with disgusting piles of rubbish.

More than 11,000 fly-tipping cases – six a day on average - have blighted the local countryside in the last five years alone, costing tax-payers £500,000 a year in clear-up costs.

But those who dunnit can’t expect to get away with it. The cameras are just one of the tools of the Buckinghamshire County Council detection team which boasts a conviction tally DCI Barnaby would be proud of.

In the 15 years since the county council and the four district councils launched their anti-fly-tipping campaign – ‘Illegal Dumping Costs’ – Waste Enforcement Officer David Rounding and his fellow investigators have successfully prosecuted 665 fly-tippers.

And the steady increase in illegal dumping nationwide since 2013 has been matched by more successes for the Waste Partnership for Buckinghamshire. David Rounding said: “We are becoming better and better at convicting people. If the evidence is there, we will get them to court.”

Buckinghamshire’s success rate in prosecuting fly-tippers is one of the highest in England because of a zero tolerance attitude towards the crime.

“Since 2010 we have been averaging more than one conviction a week, and they each pay around £1,500 in fines and costs,” said David.

Last year alone, the team of five achieved 72 convictions and court-awarded costs recouped more than £75,000 towards the councils’ clean-up and legal costs, but that is only part of the story. The campaign against fly-tippers has saved Buckinghamshire taxpayers at least £3 million over 15 years because of illegal dumping that was prevented.

Signs at dumping hotspots advertise the surveillance cameras but a succession of fly-tippers still star on screen, and later in court, and CCTV accounts for 40 per cent of the team’s convictions. Eye-witnesses account for another 20 per cent of convictions as sharp-eyed members of the public are equally keen to help catch the criminals spoiling their environment.

“This means we have eyes and ears county-wide from Akeley to Iver, Stokenchurch to Slapton and Haddenham to Chalfont St Peter. To illustrate the point, some bird watchers sent me some evidence recently, on Twitter, appropriately enough,” said David, whose Twitter account @DavidRounding features a rogues’ gallery of snared dumpers.

While nearly two thirds (62%) of fly-tipping convictions are for the act of dumping, the people who produced the waste can be prosecuted too for failing their duty of care if they do not ensure their rubbish is being disposed of legally.

The waste detectives have become experts at finding clues to identify the source of dumped rubbish. Holding a photo of an incriminating shredded document which he painstakingly reconstructed, David said: “It took me a long time but we wanted to find that corroborating document and I did find it and I traced where that load came from.”

David recalls late night raids and dawn swoops with police when known dumpers have been caught red-handed, but it is the sifting of rubbish for clues which he excels at and which brings 40 per cent of convictions.

“I call it ‘bag-diving’ because I am head-first in a bag most days,” he said. A third of the team’s convictions involve local Buckinghamshire householders fly-tipping a black bin bag or more of rubbish.

David said: “It’s such a silly mistake because, while we don’t catch everybody, we absolutely do catch plenty and if you are going to get caught you are going to stay caught - with a criminal conviction.”

The bulk of the fly-tipping is by crooked commercial operators and it’s big business. David said: “If they run in 300 loads a month, at £200 a load, it’s an astonishing amount of money.

“If I go to a pile of waste, judging by where it is and what it looks like, I can tell you who I suspect. More often than not I am right. They might think the money makes it worth the risk but they can serve up to five years in prison, and we have jailed a few.”

The total fines and costs for fly-tippers in Buckinghamshire since 2003 already tops £918,000 so, while the dirty devil who will become conviction 666 has probably already had their summons, tomorrow’s illegal dumper could be the one to throw away the millionth pound in court.

piecing together evidence
Piecing together evidence
signs don't always help
Signs don't always help
fly tipping
Fly tipping. All photos courtesy Buckinghamshire County Council.
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