Irish owner of illegal dump in Britain gets three more years in jail for failing to hand over assets
Hunt for assets was ‘biggest and most complex ever undertaken’ in Britain
Donegal-born Hugh O’Donnell in a digger on his illegal dump in Berkshire. His dump site was the size of five football pitches.
An Irishman who was given the longest-ever jail sentence for illegal dumping in Britain two years ago has been sentenced to a further three years in jail for failing to hand over nearly £600,000 worth of illegally-acquired assets.
Hugh O’Donnell, who is from Co Donegal but has lived in Britain for decades, was jailed in 2011 after police and the Environment Agency raided his illegal dump in Aldermaston, near Reading in Berkshire, which was the size of five football pitches.
When jailed, O’Donnell was ordered to hand over £917,000 under proceeds of crime seizure legislation. Two years on, £578,000 has still to be given up by the 65-year-old, despite exhaustive searches by investigators.
The Environment Agency and detectives, who investigated O’Donnell and two accomplices for three years, believe he laundered millions of pounds in profits during his operation’s lifetime, which collected skips from builders and home-owners.
The hunt for his assets – on top of the £50,000 in cash and machinery that was seized in the raid – has been “one of the biggest and most complex ever undertaken” by the British authorities, the Environment Agency told The Irish Times.
“When his huge site and home was raided, a pistol with ammunition was found in a safe, together with £45,000 in cash, documents relating to properties including the villa in Spain and cheque books in the names of aliases. Several thousand pounds were found on Mr O’Donnell,” the agency said.
Angus Innes, who led the prosecution for the Environment Agency, said it wanted “to make sure that serious waste crime doesn’t pay. We don’t just catch criminals – we want to confiscate the assets they’ve gained from crime.”
“This sentence sends out a message that failure to pay proceeds of waste crime is dealt with by the courts seriously and you . . . will be sent to jail until the monies are paid in full.”
The Donegal man was first jailed in 2009 for possession of an illegal firearm uncovered during an Environment Agency investigation, and then sent back to prison the day after his release in 2011 for the illegal dumping and money-laundering offences.
Despite owning a number of properties in Berkshire, along with a villa in Alicante in Spain, he had declared just one hundredth of his income over six years to Revenue and Customs, investigators later found.
He had tried to avoid detection by using aliases, intimidation and a series of fraudulently-created businesses, with his accomplices, 62-year-old Robert Evans and 28-year-old Peter Lavelle, the court was told.
Sentencing him in 2011, Judge HHC Edmunds said the Environment Agency had presented “an overwhelming case for conviction” against a criminal operation that was “deliberate, calculated offending on an industrial scale”.
In May 2012, O’Donnell was ordered to pay £917,000. He still owes a total of £578,845.71, including interest, with interest now accruing at a daily rate of £126.12.
Sentencing him to an extra three years in jail, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe said some of his assets had been recovered, though it was clear Mr O’Donnell was not co-operating with the authorities.