Belfast Telegraph

Down man John Braniff wins appeal against jail term for illegal dump

A businessman jailed for storing more than 2,000 tonnes of illegal waste close to a conservation site has won an appeal against his term behind bars.

The Court of Appeal today reduced John Paul Braniff's prison sentence from nine to six months for dumping materials, including asbestos, on his land in Co Down.

Although a panel of three judges stressed the risk of environmental damage from the 34-year-old's actions, they accepted there was no evidence of further harm caused.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "The quantity of hazardous materials in this case appears to have been small."

Braniff, of Carnreagh Road in Ballynhinch, pleaded guilty to two charges of treating controlled waste likely to cause pollution of the environment or damage to human health.

The former skip hire owner also admitted two further counts of unlawfully depositing controlled waste and keeping controlled waste on his land.

The offences, which stretch back to 2011, were committed at an unlicensed dumping site on the Carnreagh Road, close to Black Lough Area of Special Scientific Interest.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency officers who inspected the site estimated that in excess of 2,000 tonnes of mixed commercial and household waste had been dumped.

As well as the potential environmental and health impact, it also involved significant loss to the revenue from landfill tax and VAT avoidance.

Cleaning up the pollution will cost the public purse up to £240,000, the court heard.

In November last year Braniff, who has 31 previous convictions, was ordered to serve nine months in prison and a further nine months in licence following his release.

A confiscation order in the sum of £108,350 was also made against him.

Ruling only on his challenge to the custodial sentence, Sir Declan said he had shown persistence in his offending.

The Lord Chief Justice pointed out that waste had accumulated close to a site of special scientific interest, before adding that the most dangerous aspect - asbestos - was in small quantities.

"We accept that the appellant's case has to be approached on the basis that there was no actual evidence before the court of environmental damage beyond the actual deposit of the materials," he said.

"The risk of environmental damage is itself a significant material factor, but will generally not be as serious as actual harm."

Taking a 15-month term as the appropriate starting point, and factoring in mitigation for Braniff's plea, Sir Declan confirmed the new sentence of six months in custody and a further six on licence.

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