A conman who toured England to deceive customers over the disposal of harmful asbestos has been ordered to pay back £82,100.
Lee Charles of Caldicot Gardens, Grantham, in Lincolnshire, previously pleaded guilty in 2022 to lying to customers and giving false paperwork to hide his deception. He was given a suspended prison sentence.
The defendant was back at Lincoln Crown Court (May 22) in a case brought by the Environment Agency under the Proceeds of Crime Act, following a financial investigation into the lawful costs he avoided from his crimes.
Charles marketed himself as Lincs Demolition Ltd for two years, claiming he was registered to remove asbestos to gain lucrative jobs from Dorking to Doncaster. He had no legal permit to carry out the work.
The list of places where the 40-year-old acted out his dishonesty included:
Abingdon, Barton-upon-Humber, Boston, Burntwood, Cambridge, Caterham, Doncaster, Dorking, Erdington, Birmingham; Grantham, Gravesend, Great Yarmouth, Huntingdon, Ipswich, Kettering, Kings Lynn, Leicester, Lincoln, Loughborough, Luton, Mansfield, Market Rasen, Melton Mowbray, Newark, Norwich, Nottingham, Oakham, Peterborough, Scunthorpe, Sidcup, London; Sleaford, Spalding, St Ives, Cambridgeshire; Stockport, Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester; Stourbridge, Walsall, Warsop, Wellingborough and Worksop.
Asbestos is a hazardous substance when disturbed and carcinogenic. The UK banned its use in 1999.
Having duped his customers, Charles stashed the waste asbestos in hired storage containers at Welbourn, in Lincolnshire, 200m from a school and close to a Girl Guide centre.
Charles told the owners of the storage space he wanted to keep tools there. When he failed to pay the rent on the containers, the owners forced the locks and were confronted with the dangerous contents.
Paul Salter, an Environmental Waste Crime Officer for the Environment Agency, said:
“Lee Charles’ crimes were not just illegal, but dangerous. He has been ordered to pay back, and this sends out a clear message to others who flout the law that waste crime does not pay.
“Not only do we use environmental law to prosecute those who abuse the environment, but we also use the Proceeds of Crime legislation to ensure that criminals are deprived of the benefits of their illegal activity.
“We support legitimate businesses, and we are proactively supporting them by disrupting and stopping the criminal element backed up by the threat of tough enforcement as in this case.
“We continue to use intelligence-led approaches to target the most serious crimes and evaluate which interventions are most effective.
“If you see or suspect waste crime is being committed, we urge you to report it immediately to CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Once exposed, Charles abandoned the storage containers at Welbourn, moving his activities to an unpermitted waste site 16 miles away near Sleaford, where he continued to store asbestos unsafely, posing a risk to public health.
In 2015, illegal waste activity was estimated to cost over £600 million in England alone, with the figure for the UK likely to be much higher.
The Environment Agency’s permitting system enables businesses to carry out their operations, while robust regulation provides the level playing field legitimate businesses need to prevent being undercut by irresponsible or illegal operators.
Charles previously pleaded guilty to two counts of operating a waste operation without a permit between 2017 and 2019, contrary to Regulations 12, 38(1)(a) and 41(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of keeping or disposing of controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm, contrary to Sections 33(1)(c), 33(6) and 157(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.