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Just a quarter of prosecution cases over illegal dumping lead to convictions

Despite a constant scourge of fly-tipping across the north, the conviction rate remains low. Picture by Mal McCann

ALMOST 100 cases linked to illegal dumping are being referred for prosecution every year - although just one in four have resulted in convictions.

In the past decade there have been 940 cases referred to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), but just 262 have led to successful prosecutions through the courts.

The number of defendants referred for prosecution by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency's Environmental Crime Unit (ECU) has dropped from 146 in 2007 to just 61 so far this year.

In 2007, there were 58 successful prosecutions, compared to just three last year, although the department stresses that court cases can take several years to reach a conclusion.

Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen said that cases can be dropped due to lack of evidence or because the PPS deem them not to be in the public interest, while on other occasions a warning, fixed penalty notice or statutory notice is issued.

"In other cases, the topography of the infilled area makes it too dangerous, or risks too much further contaminated, and so assessing the exact amount of waste there is simply not possible," she said.

Under a fly-tipping partnership between councils and the NIEA implemented in 2012, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is responsible for the clean-up of all larger volumes of waste.

A further breakdown by council area of large volumes of fly-tipping waste reported to the NIEA show that Newry and Armagh had the highest number of incidents.

Almost 300 incidents have been reported in the Newry area since June 2012, with 139 in Armagh in the same period.

Ms McIlveen said: "It is extremely difficult for the NIEA to find any evidence as to the perpetrators of fly-tipping crime, due to its clandestine nature of often being carried out in the cover of darkness and in remote locations.

"This summer NIEA carried out eight investigations of fly-tipping at bonfire sites, where there was sufficient evidence to issue five fixed penalty notices at £300 each."

The figures were released by Ms McIlveen in response to an Assembly Question from South Down UUP MLA Harold McKee, who said the low number of convictions was "shocking."

"Whilst a small number of the remaining cases will be continuing, the reality is there are hundreds of people walking the streets who the ECU suspected enough of being involved in serious or organised waste crime to refer their case to the PPS."

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