London, Feb 7 (IANS) An Indian-origin owner of a waste treatment plant in East London has been fined for barring environment inspectors from entering the site twice unless they paid her thousands of pounds in bogus fees.
Gurjit Athwal, 51, director of Keep Green at Atcost Road in Barking, was ordered to pay a fine of 3,000 pounds, another 3,000 in cost, and a victim surcharge of 1,200 pounds.
The Barkingside magistrates’ court heard that between February 24 and April 18, 2023, Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency officers in “the exercise or performance of their powers or duties”.
The court was told that one of the officers called Keep Green in February 2023 as the Environment Agency was concerned about the amount of waste stored at the site since the last visual check six months before.
The officer wanted to check operations were within the conditions of Keep Green’s environmental permit to treat household, commercial, and industrial waste and that pollution-control measures were in place, a government release stated on Wednesday.
It said, Athwal stopped the officer from entering the premises and demanded 500 pounds and insurance documents to let her in.
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.
“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,” Barry Russell, environment manager for the Environment Agency in north and east London, said.
“Athwal intentionally obstructed Environment Agency staff (from) carrying out their work to keep communities safe,” he added.
Athwal later made several 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, according to the release.
The officer went back to Atcost Road with a colleague two months later 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 pounds for “an inspection fee” and what she called “written descriptions”.
The Environment Agency has the power of entry to visit and inspect any location that holds a permit to operate and does not pay any operator whose site it regulates.
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.
She was sentenced in absentia on January 30 and was charged with breaching regulation 34(2) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
According to the law, the Environment Agency has “a duty to make appropriate periodic inspections of regulated facilities to ensure that the operator is complying with their permit”.