Aldbourne farmer tells of relief at £6m reprieve
Farmer Guy Wentworth breathed a sigh of relief when he was fined almost £210,000 on Monday – substantially less than the £6m he was once told he might have to pay.
The verdict brought an end to the latest stage in a two-year legal battle between the 73-year-old of Ewins Hill Farm, Aldbourne, and the Environment Agency, which he says has taken a substantial toll on his health.
Mr Wentworth said he owes a debt of gratitude to his lawyer Mark Ruffell for helping to negotiate the fine down to £209,980, but says he will still struggle to pay it.
The farmer was given a 12-month suspended prison sentence in March 2011 after he admitted disposing waste without a permit and on Monday at Salisbury Crown Court he faced a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act to determine the value of the illegal activity.
His 55-acre farm has been in the Wentworth family since 1865 and before the fine was set he feared he would have to sell the land to pay for it.
During the proceedings the court heard that the farm is worth an estimated £383,000 and Mr Wentworth earns an annual salary of around £20,000.
Judge John Dixon ruled that Mr Wentworth be given the maximum six months to pay the money and explained that if he failed to do so in that time frame he could face a two-year prison sentence and would still have to pay the fine on his release.
But he can ask for an extension in mitigating circumstances before April 2014.
Mr Wentworth said: “Originally I was told it would be between £3.5m and £6m. Even on Monday they were asking for £3.5m so it was a relief when my solicitor, Mark Ruffell, came in with the final figure; I owe him a great lot of thanks.
“I have to look at how I can pay the fine.
“I’m going to go to my solicitor to get more time because the middle of winter is not a good time for a farm sale.
“I have two pieces of land that are virtually brownfield sites, which I am looking at selling so hopefully I can keep the farm.”
Mr Wentworth suffers from Parkinson’s disease. He had been using part of his land as a recycling yard for building materials since 1987, selling anything that could be reused and using any soil for land levelling on the farm.
He said: “What is sad is that I have had to go to court just because I want to improve my land. Wiltshire Council for Environmental Health gave me an exemption certificate but when the Environment Agency took over I was told I might need a permit.”
Christ Badger, prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, told the court the case had cost £77,000 and asked for a contribution from Mr Wentworth. He was ordered to pay £10,000 in costs.
Environment manager Colin Chiverton said: “We hope this case sends out a very clear message to those who think they can carry out illegal waste activities for profit that serious waste crime does not pay.”