Man who burned mattresses in Newcastle residential area handed suspended jail sentence

By Flaminia Luck

A mattress burning man whose illegal bonfire’s acrid black smoke could be seen for miles has been given a suspended jail term.

Michael McLanaghan, 44, of Swinley Gardens in Newcastle, pleaded guilty to disposing of controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health after being caught by an off-duty enforcement officer, who was out for a walk.

On Tuesday April 20 at around 3.35pm, a Newcastle City Council environmental protection officer was walking through Denton when he saw a plume of dark smoke.

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He headed to the residential area of Swinley Gardens where he could see black fumes rising from behind one of the houses.

The fire had flames as high as the semi-detached home’s first floor windows and was filling the air with the smell of smoke and burning synthetic materials.

Not feeling safe in approaching either McLanaghan or the fire, which would have needed protective equipment to go any nearer to, the officer withdrew called the police, who dispatched a crew from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service to extinguish the blaze.

Generally it is known that the darker the smoke, the more polluting the fire tends to be.

Roy Harris, Newcastle City Council’s environmental protection manager, said: “As a council we very much want everyone to be a good neighbour and to that end discourage the burning of any waste.

“In most cases, it is not only illegal but it can be exceptionally dangerous, with toxic gasses like hydrogen, cyanide and other poisonous pollutants released.

“To do so in the middle of a residential area, close to a school, knowing how damaging it could be to others in the community, is quite frankly shocking, and I am glad that the courts have taken such a dim view of this crime.”

After being questioned under caution by council enforcement officers, McLanaghan admitted burning four or five mattresses, said that the smoke was black and it smelt, agreed there was no control over the emissions and that the smoke had drifted over other houses.

When asked if he understood the hazards of dark smoke, he said that it “Obviously causes health hazards”.

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McLanaghan consented to an inspection of his back garden, the fences of which were badly damaged by fire, and officers found a large pile of burnt mattress springs, some with plastic residue, bits of charred metal and wood and, at the far end of the garden, a stack of seven further, unburnt, mattresses.

McLanaghan pleaded guilty at Newcastle Magistrates’ Court on July 27 but taking into account the potential harm caused by burning mattresses, the proximity of a school, and a previous conviction for a similar offence in 2017, magistrates felt their powers were insufficient and sent the case to the crown court for sentencing.

On August 24 McLanaghan appeared before Newcastle Magistrates’ Court where Recorder Margia Mostafa sentenced him to three months in prison, suspended for twelve months, and ordered him to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £300 in costs.

In most cases burning waste is illegal. It is a criminal offence to burn household rubbish which will cause pollution or possible harm to health, any waste from commercial activity, any waste from building or demolition works, or any waste that will cause dark or black smoke.

If Newcastle residents do need to get rid of rubbish then the city council’s recycling centres at Brunswick, Byker and Walbottle are open as normal, bin collections are continuing as scheduled, you can sign up for garden waste collections at www.newcastle.gov.uk/gardenwaste, or the local authority can offer advice and discounted equipment to help you compost at home.

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