‘My hell after council took me to court over a cardboard box’
22 Sep 2011
A businesswoman told of her “months of complete hell” after a council took her to court for giving away a cardboard box.
Linda Bracey, 54, was asked for some boxes by a passer-by at Electro Signs in Walthamstow last October.
But Waltham Forest council prosecuted her firm for disposing of business waste illegally, in a case that cost the taxpayer £15,000. The council lost this month, and was condemned by a judge for causing “a monumental waste of public time and money”.
Mrs Bracey, a mother of three and grandmother of five, called the town hall’s campaign “mad”, adding: “It’s been nine months of complete hell and sleepless nights. I wanted to leap for joy when the jury gave a verdict.
“I support the council’s policy on fly-tipping but this was never about that. The rubbish had nothing to do with us. If the council had won it’d mean no retailers or businesses could give people cardboard boxes.”
Town hall bosses launched legal action after one of the boxes, bearing the company’s name, was found by a councillor among other rubbish on a fly-tipping site.
But at Snaresbrook crown court a jury unanimously acquitted the firm of breaching environmental protection laws. Judge Alex Milne called for a return to “common sense”. Mrs Bracey, whose firm specialises in making neon and illuminated signs, said: “I find it bizarre that I was prosecuted under the Environmental Protection Act when I was advocating the re-use of cardboard boxes. Everybody has used cardboard boxes second-hand.
“The judge agreed that he’d used boxes himself when he was a law student moving out of digs, and wondered if that made him a criminal.”
Clyde Loakes, Waltham Forest’s cabinet member for the environment, called the verdict “incredibly disappointing”.
He added: “Residents are fed up with people treating streets as a rubbish dump. We’ve carried out a drive that’s seen fly-tipping fall 30 per cent in 18 months. It is entirely predictable that rubbish ends up on street corners if businesses do not have robust systems to ensure waste is transferred to a licensed contractor.
“Last year we handed out 1,650 fixed penalty notices and carried out almost 100 successful prosecutions for waste offences.”