The directors of waste firms who ignored advice that their sites posed a fire risk, only for huge blazes to break out and burn for days, are today starting immediate and suspended jail terms.

The fires, both in 2020, saw thick smoke plague Bishop Auckland and Liverton, near Saltburn.

On Monday the bosses of the firms who ‘repeatedly ignored’ and showed a ‘complete disregard’ for environmental rules were handed prison sentences and fines of more than £100k combined.

The two fires were at the Greenology Liverton Ltd site near Loftus in April 2020, and the Old Eldon Brickworks in Bishop Auckland in August that year.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Waste in Liverton before the blaze.Waste in Liverton before the blaze. (Image: ENVIRONMENT AGENCY)

Thick black smoke billowed from the Liverton location on April 5, 2020, when a blaze broke out and spread through baled plastic, destroying the site.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Smoke coming from the fire in Liverton in 2020.Smoke coming from the fire in Liverton in 2020.

The fire burned for nine days, hugely impacting locals who couldn’t be evacuated because of the Covid-19 national lockdown.

The firm, and predecessor SESL from whom it took over in February 2019, had repeatedly been told to take measures to reduce the risk of fires.

Waste on site continued to increase, with the Environment Agency warning about the amount of waste and the fire risk it posed, and taking subsequent enforcement action to have waste cleared from the site. While the site was largely cleared, by late 2019 it had quickly been refilled with waste plastic.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The fire at the Liverton site burned for days.The fire at the Liverton site burned for days. (Image: ENVIRONMENT AGENCY)

Darlington and Stockton Times: Firefighters tackling the blaze at the Greenology Liverton site near Saltburn in April 2020.Firefighters tackling the blaze at the Greenology Liverton site near Saltburn in April 2020.

By helping to run SESL and Greenology Liverton, Jonathan Brudenell, 54, of no fixed address, was in breach of a bankruptcy order which prohibited him running a company after multiple fraud offences. He had negotiated the lease for the site under a false name, Guy Barker.

He is now starting a 34-month spell behind bars.

In 2013 he was jailed for conning his associates out of £1.24m.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Liverton site after the blaze.The Liverton site after the blaze. (Image: ENVIRONMENT AGENCY)

Meanwhile Laura Hepburn, 44, of Stonebridgegate, Ripon who set up Greenology Liverton Ltd and Greenology Teesside Ltd which dealt with waste tyre, was given a jail term of two years, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 150 hours of community work.

Selective Environmental Solutions Ltd (SESL) and its director Jonathan Waldron, 42, of Winton in Northallerton, operated on this site with Brudenell prior to Greenology taking over, and also illegally deposited waste at a farm near Whitby.

Waldron then became director of Falcons Two Ltd, the firm which took over the Old Eldon Brickworks site in Bishop Auckland in February 2020.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Thick smoke rises from a fire at the Old Eldon Brickworks in August 2020.Thick smoke rises from a fire at the Old Eldon Brickworks in August 2020.

But the site was never in compliance with its environmental permit and was continually storing excessive volumes of waste causing a major fire risk.

Waldron was told several times to act, including being told to create fire breaks and remove unpermitted waste by August 17 that year.

But less than two weeks later, on August 30, 2022, a huge blaze broke out in the main store building before spreading. More than 4,500 tonnes of waste was estimated to be inside the sheds.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Brickworks before the fire.The Brickworks before the fire. (Image: ENVIRONMENT AGENCY)

The fire burned for several days and could be seen for miles, with locals plagued by strong smells and told to keep their windows closed.

Bishop Auckland man Kevin Longstaff said at the time: “I live in Bishop, which is two miles from there and I could see it. I could hear the popping noise even from here. You can smell the smoke.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Smoke could be seen for miles.Smoke could be seen for miles.

Waldron denied that the company had set out to be non-compliant but had ended up that way because of a lack of funds, and it had had a significant impact on him personally and financially.

He later admitted in court to failing to comply with regulations and keeping waste “in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health”.

Appearing before Teesside Crown Court on Monday (May 20) he was sentenced to 20 months behind bars, suspended for two years, and will have to do 150 hours unpaid community work and pay £9,000 in costs.

Greenology Liverton Ltd was fined £69,000, Greenology Teesside Ltd was fined £20,000 and  SESL was fined £14,666.66.

Gary Wallace from the Environment Agency said: “All of those sentenced have shown a complete disregard for environmental laws, which are there to protect people and the environment.

“They could have been in no doubt that the sites were operating illegally and posed a significant fire risk, but repeatedly ignored our officers’ warnings about bringing the sites back into compliance and making them safe.

“The walls of waste resulted in two major fires, impacting on the environment and causing misery for local residents.

“Waste criminals cause distress to our communities and can destroy the environment and this case demonstrates that we’ll do everything in our power to ensure they are brought to justice for their crimes.”