WHITE Van Man had pulled into a layby on a country road between Leeds and Castleford and was hard at work.
The back doors were open, and he was dumping black plastic bags full of rubbish as fast as he could go. It was just after dusk, there were no houses nearby, and he’d obviously banked on being finished and away before anybody spotted him.
But my passenger and I did. I slowed down so he could read the registration number and scribble it on the back of his hand. The fly-tipper clocked us and flicked a V-sign. Nice.
With luck, the perfect riposte to that two-fingered salute will be heading his way soon, since his registration number, along with the make and model of his van, are with the council’s environmental health department.
I hope they throw the book at him. Fly-tipping attracts a maximum fine of £50,000 or a year in prison, and he will deserve whatever the court decides to impose. He should also be made to pay for the removal of his rubbish.
But if he is prosecuted, it will be the result of pure chance. A couple of minutes either way, and my friend and I would not have witnessed the tipping. Nor would anybody else. The road was deserted apart from us.
As the environmental health officer replied when I mentioned this: “Exactly. That’s the whole problem, catching them at it.”
The likelihood of getting away with it must be a factor in the growing problem of fly-tipping, which is now on a staggering scale.
The statistics make shocking reading. According to the most recent figures from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, cleaning it up cost £49.8m last year.
That equates to 936,000 reported incidents of fly-tipping, a four per cent increase compared to the previous 12 months.
The NHS and schools are crying out for extra funds, and we’re having to waste almost £50m on clearing up after people like this scoundrel who couldn’t care less about despoiling a peaceful rural landscape in the Aire Valley.
It’s the countryside that is suffering. The growing network of CCTV cameras – both on the streets and covering private homes and businesses – makes it harder to get away with fly-tipping in built-up areas, but the countryside is a different matter, especially after dark.
It’s hardly possible to drive any distance through the Yorkshire countryside without seeing rubbish dumped in laybys or strewn along the verges, the culprits having melted away into the night.
Councils work hard and efficiently to clear it away as quickly as possible, but it’s a never-ending battle, with each dawn revealing another incident.
One council officer I know expresses his frustration that a layby on his patch near Skipton is a magnet for fly-tippers, and he has to dispatch a team to clear it up with infuriating regularity.
His counterparts all over Yorkshire would nod their heads in weary recognition. Each will have their own blackspots, out-of-the way places on quiet roads, impossible to secure against tipping, and inexorably draining the resources of councils already under financial pressure.
A series of welcome blows have been struck against urban littering, with the introduction of council enforcement officers able to impose fines and the charges for plastic bags, which has resulted in fewer of them blowing about the streets.
If, as it should be, a deposit scheme is introduced for plastic bottles, that will also help.
It is time for similar energy and effort to be directed towards stamping out fly-tipping.
We need nothing less than a national crusade against what has become an epidemic, in which we all have our part to play, reporting not only what we see but what we suspect.
As householders, all of us have a duty to ensure that anybody we employ to do building work or remove rubbish is disposing of it properly.
A picture taken on a mobile phone of refuse being taken to a council waste site would do. No reputable workman would object to spending a moment to do that.
The Government should take a lead by stiffening the penalties imposed on those convicted. A doubling of the maximum fine and term of imprisonment would have a deterrent effect, but they could go one step farther by giving courts the power to confiscate vehicles.
White Van Man might well think twice if he knew that being caught not only meant a hefty fine or jail time, but the loss of his ability to earn a living.
Helping councils track down offenders by giving them the funds to install CCTV at tipping blackspots, or making forensic analysis of rubbish available, would also pay dividends.
Tackling fly-tipping won’t be cheap. But if an injection of central funds helps the country to save £50m a year, it would be money well spent.