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31 January 2023

The UK’s rubbish-dump mafia

Radio 4’s Buried tells the story of “the astonishing crime you likely haven’t heard of”.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

A national scandal involving household rubbish might be a hard sell for the average radio listener. But the husband-and-wife investigative team of Dan Ashby and Lucy Taylor have invested countless hours in following this story – and they’re determined their listeners will be as outraged as they are. This is, they explain, “the astonishing crime you likely haven’t heard of”, “a scam so big that generations will pay for it”, and the dawn of a “new mafia”. They’re talking about one of the UK’s most significant eco-crimes: the illegal dumping of more than one million tonnes of waste in Northern Ireland at the hands of organised crime. Their ten-episode deep dive for BBC Radio 4 – now available in its entirety on BBC Sounds – explores how this one toxic dump illustrates a broader, profoundly troubling issue with waste management in Britain.

Episode one begins with a suitably dramatic discovery: a tape recorded by a dying whistleblower. Joe was a truck driver in the area for many years, and, now very unwell, he is determined that he speak out against the scale of the dumping – and his suspicions that it might be putting local lives at risk – before it’s too late. “Dig it up,” he urges. We learn how, over decades, criminals acted under the guise of legitimate businesses, taking money from councils across Northern Ireland supposedly to recycle waste – then dumped it in the Mobuoy Road waste site near Derry. Ashby and Taylor explore whether local officials knew about the illegal activity and failed to prevent it.

But Buried is also a wider look at a problem many of us never knew existed. Mobuoy isn’t an isolated incident – evidence suggests there are illegal dumps across the country, as well as a widespread criminal practice of illegally disposing of waste in legal sites. In Italy, “eco-mafia” thrive – dumps have been set ablaze, causing toxic fumes to be released into local communities with potentially devastating results. This, Ashby and Taylor insist, is a warning that the UK must take seriously.

BBC Sounds

[See also: Ghosts of the Cultural Revolution]

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This article appears in the 01 Feb 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Housing Con