Dismay at lenient sentence for topsoil fraudster

The head of a woodland charity has expressed her dismay at the suspended sentence given to a fraudster who dumped thousands of tons of contaminated soil onto land managed by three non-profit groups.

John Valler received a nine-month suspended sentence, 100 hours of community service and a £12,000 fine at Bristol Crown Court earlier this week. He had admitted dumping hundreds of lorry loads of waste onto land belonging to West Midlands charity the Warley Woods Community Trust and Bristol organisations the Avon Riding Centre for the Disabled and the Woodhouse Park Trust, which runs a scout camp.

Viv Cole, trust manager at Warley Woods Community Trust, said Valler had approached her charity in 2004 offering free topsoil for its golf course. He was given a key to a gate to the park, but members of staff were alerted by members of the public about the large number of lorries entering and leaving. An inspection revealed that Valler – who used a false name – had dumped 15,000 tons of unusable soil mixed with demolition rubble such as metal, bricks and lumps of concrete.

Similar offences were committed at the other two charities, while another conviction for illegal dumping on land owned by a swan sanctuary could not be taken into account by the judge because the offence had been committed after the others.

Solicitors for the Environment Agency, which mounted the prosecution, estimated that Valler had made up to £70,000 from the scams, but investigators assessed that he could afford to pay his fines only at the rate of £100 a week.

Cole said she doubted Valler would pay the fine and condemned the leniency of his sentence. “You get that for small driving offences,” she said. “He could have got five years; we’d like to know what you have to do to get that? Dump nuclear waste on people? He knew very what he was doing and that it was illegal.”

She said the charity would not be able to move the waste, some of which is hazardous, until it could factor in the cost of doing so into a grant bid. “Grants are hard enough to get anyway,” she said.

She said Valler had deliberately targeted charities because their land was not under constant supervision. “He said he thought charities wouldn’t be able to suss him out,” Cole said.

The Environment Agency’s solicitor also expressed disappointment at the sentence. “It is frustrating that three charitable organisations have been landed with clean-up costs totalling more than £500,000, while Valler has his freedom and is not unduly punished financially,” he said.

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