Council spends £15k taking store owner to court over a cardboard box

Waltham Forest council ran up legal bills of £15,000 after accusing a company boss of 'illegally disposing of business waste' when she handed over a spare cardboard box at the request of a passing shopper.

The local authority took Linda Bracey of 'ElectroSigns' to court after one of the boxes, bearing the company's name was found among other rubbish on a fly-tipping site.

Mrs Bracey, 54, said the council's decision to prosecute her was "ridiculous". She explained that if successful, the prosecution would have seen supermarkets and other businesses effectively banned from giving away spare boxes to customers who might want to carry their shopping or use them for packing when moving house.

Following a trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court, Mrs Bracey's company was acquitted of breaching environmental protection laws as the case was branded a "monumental waste of public time and money" by Judge Alex Milne QC.

He called for "common sense" and said to the jury; "were the cardboard boxes in question waste?
Packaging such as boxes received by a company like Electro Signs is not waste when it is delivered to the company. Nor do boxes become waste as soon as the contents are removed."
Councillor Clyde Loakes, Waltham Forest Council Cabinet Member for Environment, described the outcome of the case as "incredibly disappointing".

"If a company chooses to keep and re-use boxes, they remain the property of the company and an asset. If the company keeps boxes for its own use but then chooses to give or sell boxes to another party that is not discarding them."

Following the hearing Mrs Bracey, a mother of three, said; "it is a ridiculous situation, because not only are the council, as the judge said, wasting taxpayers' money, but also preventing the re-using of a cardboard box, since the company that gives a person a box could be facing prosecution. The world's gone mad.

"The ironic thing is that the council brought the action against us under the Environmental Protection Act. The council had ample opportunity over many, many court hearings to stop this. It didn't have to go this far."
Faisal Saifee, Mrs Bracey's barrister, added that the prosecution did not allege the fly-tipping, in October last year, was carried out by the company, which makes neon signs, or any of its employees.
Mr Loakes added: "Our residents are fed up with people treating our streets as a rubbish dump, which is why this council has carried out a well-publicised drive to wipe out environmental crime."
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