Herts Ad Comment: European referendum and toxic fire court case

This week's editor's comment...

This week's editor's comment... - Credit: Archant

When the country went to the polls in the 1975 referendum, 70.4 per cent of those who voted in Herts opted to stay in the European Economic Community, But since then the overwhelming support of the 1970s has been replaced with a growing euroscepticism.

For a generation, our relationship with the European Union has never been far from the surface of politics as new institutions and bureaucracies have been created, new laws imposed on the United Kingdom and new countries have joined.

Now, as we begin the countdown to another referendum, the stakes seem to be higher than ever.

But like the population at large, we respect the fact that we have readers with strong views on either side of the debate. We will also have many who are undecided.

Over the coming weeks we will report what those on either side of the fence are saying and do our utmost to inform you before you make up your minds on June 23.

But in the meantime, we would urge readers to help us see how the mood of the district is shifting by voting in our anonymous poll (see page 3 for details).

There has been a lot of criticism recently that the law is an ass - admittedly more with regard to celebrity injunctions than other issues.

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But last week’s decision at Chelmsford Crown Court to sentence a start-up recyling businessman from St Albans to a 15-month suspended sentence after sparking a major toxic fire that burned for two months is a nonsense.

The scale of the fire near Brentwood was incredible - choking toxic smoke across the area, 2,500 fish killed, river and watercourses polluted. Hundreds of thousands of pounds had to be spent to bring it under control and clean it up and the Essex fire brigade was still damping it down two months later.

The owner of the company Joshua O’Malley, who was living in St Albans and has now moved to Wheathampstead, had ignored advice about the potential risks from both the Environment Agency and the fire service and even the judge admitted it was a flagrant disregard of the law.

So what did he get - a 15-month suspended sentence after the court heard how ‘remorseful’ he was about the fire. So remorseful that he did nothing to stop it happening, blaming the distraction of family difficulties and a faulty chipper.

This district has suffered on many occasions from fires at a wood waste site at Appspond Lane which has cost many fire personnel man hours, smoke blowing across the M1 motorway and fumes and toxic smells suffered by nearby residents.

It is currently being cleared - very slowly - by the Environment Agency but if it is as easy as Mr O’Malley appears to have found it to set up such a business in Essex, who is to say someone else won’t come along with a similar scheme for that site?

What sort of message does a suspended sentence for Mr O’Malley send out? Sometimes, indeed, the law is a real ass.