Golf course owners jailed for contempt

Posted: 28th July 2012

The owners of a golf course near Oxford have been sent to prison by a High Court judge for failing to remove more than 150,000 cubic metres of waste they illegally buried on the site in the 1990s.

GolfDeputy High Court Judge John Leighton Williams QC sentenced brothers Michael and Ronald Wyatt, aged 75 and 69, (the respondents) to four months and six months imprisonment respectively for contempt of court. They had repeatedly failed to comply with court orders requiring them to remove the waste from the course.

The brothers, who run the course through their company Wyatt Brothers (Oxford) Ltd, had previously had the prison terms suspended in May 2010, but the judge has now ordered them to serve those sentences.

Oxfordshire County Council (the applicant) has been fighting to secure the removal of the waste for several years and first secured a High Court injunction against the brothers in 2005.

The brothers argued that they had put forward a proposal to the council that represented a ‘reasonable compromise’ in seeking to achieve the purpose of the latest court order. They submitted that removal works had to cease in January and it has been impossible to resume them since due to the recent bad weather.

They also argued that it would be disproportionate and contrary to the public interest to commit them to prison. However, the judge ruled: ‘I have to say that I find these submissions quite astonishing.

‘Over the years the courts have sought to accommodate the respondents without any reasonable response by them. The successive orders represent a tightening of the conditions imposed and to be complied with and compliance has been the basis upon which the sentences of imprisonment have been suspended.

‘Court orders are made to be obeyed. Otherwise there is no point in making them. Further compromise in the respondents’ favour is not appropriate, unless it is at the instance of the applicant.’

The judge accepted that, in the past, comparatively small amounts of waste had been removed, but said: ‘I am quite satisfied that there is a substantial amount of waste yet to be removed.’

Rejecting the brothers’ claims that their efforts to comply have been thwarted by the weather, he added: ‘Everybody knows that there has been more rain than usual this year and I have no difficulty in accepting that there may have been periods of time when removing waste was not practical. But I cannot conclude that no work of waste removal has been possible.

‘The respondents have made no efforts, realistic or otherwise, to ensure substantial as opposed to token compliance with the order. They have gone their own way, no doubt hoping that one day they will obtain planning permission to enable them to develop which might then give them permission to retain the waste.’