A High Court judge has fined a mother and son €6.26 million, to be paid to Meath County Council, over contempt of court orders requiring them to clean up two illegal dumps on their farm at Enfield.
Up to 100,000t of waste, including asbestos, was dumped on two unauthorised areas comprising 3ac on the 253ac farm over a three-year period up to October 2014.
The farm, at Ballynakill, Rathcor, Enfield, is owned by Eileen Hendy and run by her son, Fred.
Found in contempt
In a judgement published on Monday, Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said the Hendys had had three years since another High Court judge had ordered them to take steps to clean up the sites; they had been found last July in contempt of that order and they were not entitled to more time to comply.
The fact the remediation costs are probably going to be in excess of their means is “irrelevant”, he said.
While their counsel had argued a fine would infringe their property and other rights, those rights were subordinate to the requirement to comply with court orders which they had not done.
Coercive not punitive
The fine is “coercive”, not punitive, as it was not intended to punish them for their three-year long contempt but rather to ensure the remediation happens, the judge said.
It goes without saying they cannot be imprisoned over failure to pay the balance of the fine once their assets have been exhausted.
In 2016 the council had secured orders from then High Court judge Seamus Noonan against the Hendys aimed at securing remediation of the landfill sites in line with recommendations of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and also required the Hendys to pay costs, not then quantified, towards that remediation.
The court was told in 2016 the cost of dealing with the waste was estimated about €2 million if the sites were “capped” and left in place and would be some €6 million if the waste was removed and treated at a licenced facility.
Mrs Hendy lives with her daughter in a house on the lands while Fred and his family lived in another house nearby.
The council claimed diaries kept by Mr Hendy indicated he was paid about €175,000 over two years between 2011 and 2012 for taking in waste at rates considerably lower than would have had to be paid to licenced landfills.
The council had also brought proceedings against a waste company and a number of hauliers but the claims against those parties were struck out after Mr Justice Noonan raised issues about the adequacy of evidence against those parties.
The council in 2019 initiated contempt proceedings against the Hendys and Mr Justice Humphreys, at a hearing last July, found both in contempt.
Arising from that finding, he considered further submissions and gave judgement on those on Monday.
Mr Justice Humphreys found the Hendys had no valid legal complaint about the council proceeding with the contempt matter.
The council’s main concern is to have the lands remediated and, despite arguments on behalf of the Hendys that they have tried alternative solutions, they have done nothing effective for a three-year period and it would be “a fool’s errand” to give them a further chance to begin to do something now, he said.
The farm lands amount to 253ac, of which 3ac are contaminated, he noted. That meant a large amount of the lands were available for sale.
Eileen Hendy held 8/9 of them, 1/9 was held by her late husband’s estate and the lands include the homes of both Eileen and Fred, the judge noted.
An affidavit of means on behalf of the Hendys referred to land worth €665,000 but that was queried by the council and there may have to be cross-examination on it, he said.
The affidavit also said there are no mortgages or charges on the lands.