A Co Tyrone mother and her two sons accused of keeping and treating more than 7,000 tonnes of waste had the charges against dismissed last week.
At Dungannon Magistrates Court, sitting in Lisburn, District Judge John Ranaghan said that having considered all of the evidence he heard in a PI, it was his view that “no reasonable jury properly directed could properly convict” Ann McGee and her two sons Peter James and Michael McGee.
Mrs McGee (58), Michael McGee (29), both from the Tandragee Road in Pomeroy and 31-year-old Peter James McGee, from Killyliss Manor in Eglish, had always denied the 12 charges against them which accused them of unlawfully depositing, keeping and treating controlled waste “in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm human health” on dates between 1 September 2010 and 30 July 2015.
The judge said he accepted that obviously, “there’s a real public interest in bringing those responsible for the depositing and keeping or controlled waste before the courts” given the potential impact on the environment and the possibility for criminal elements to make substantial profits from illegal dumping.
Rehearsing briefly the evidence he heard at a Preliminary Investigation last December, Judge Ranaghan said the offences centred around 7,200 tonnes of waste which NI Environment Inspectors uncovered on land which belongs to the McGee’s.
The judge outlined how numerous inspections found gas “bubbling” through puddles with waste “sticking out” of the ground surrounding a partially built house. It was the Crown case that Mrs McGee and her sons could be linked to the waste because they owned the land, commercial vehicles registered to the family were spotted at the dumping site and an intercom to gain access to the land was linked to Mrs McGee’s mobile phone.
The judge revealed, however, that a lease for the 58 acres was “executed in favour” of 56-year-old John Joseph McGee, Mrs McGee’s husband who was last reported to be living in Dublin.
Mr McGee, also with an address on the Tandragee Road, faces the same 12 charges.
It was the defence case, put forward by defence QC David McDowell and by Mrs McGee from the witness box, that herself and her sons were “rarely” at the site and knew nothing of about the tonnes of waste.
Judge Ranaghan said he heard evidence about a family fall out when Mr McGee allegedly threatened to shoot his family while ordering them to stay away from the land where the waste was found, further revealing that he heard a “distressing 999 call” about that incident.
There was also documentary evidence, said the judge, that Mr McGee was the registered keeper and was insured to drive the various vehicles which inspectors spotted at the dump site during their examinations.
Mrs McGee and her sons were interviewed about the waste with each denying they knew anything about it and inspectors noting down they appeared “shocked... and surprised” when told of what had been unearthed.
Judge Ranaghan said that having had the benefit of observing Mrs McGee in the witness box during her testimony, he believed she answered questions “with clarity and honesty.”
She told the court a decision had been made to give the lease to her husband because of his increasing depression, “erratic spending” and because “he wanted something to do and wanted to be back on the farm so this was our way of giving something back.”
Coming to his judgement, Judge Ranaghan said the particulars of the offences required a defendant to have knowledge of the waste but that examining the evidence as it stands, “I am not if the opinion that a reasonable jury could convict any of the three defendants before the court.”
Accordingly, he ordered charges be withdrawn against Mrs McGee and her sons.
They do still stand against Mr John Joseph Magee however.