Asbestos removalist gets suspended jail sentence

A South Australian waste removalist convicted of assaulting two environment protection officers has been given a suspended sentence, but his company has been fined $49,000 for illegally storing more than 17 tonnes of asbestos.

The Environmental, Resources and Development Court heard Gavin Piller snatched a camera and audio recorder from the hands of the officers from SA’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA). The court heard he “lost the plot” when he grabbed one of the officers by the shirt, pushing him to the ground and punching him in the head. After Piller was pulled off the officer, he grabbed a piece of wood before he was disarmed by a worker from behind.

In handing down the sentence, Judge Paul Muscat said Piller’s behaviour was “unprovoked”. “It was totally out of order and inexcusable in every respect, and nor was it the first time he’s been unable to control his behaviour,” Judge Muscat said.

The court heard Piller’s company, GP and Sons, had a history of complaints dating back to August 2015, when the EPA attended one of the company’s sites to discuss concerns over a large amount of dust causing an environmental nuisance. It was told a warning was issued to the company due to Piller’s behaviour, which was “abusive, insulting and threatening”.

“It’s not as if Gavin Piller comes before this court with an unblemished character,” Judge Muscat said.

The court heard one of the EPA officers had suffered physically and psychologically since the incident and sought a transfer to a role that involves less involvement with the public.

Piller was convicted of two counts of assaulting an EPA officer, using abusive language and two counts of hindering an EPA officer. A 12-month jail sentence was suspended, but the court imposed a $500 good behaviour bond and a $2,100 fine.

“In my view this assaultive conduct is so serious the only penalty that can be justified is imprisonment,” Judge Muscat said. “Despite the seriousness of the assault I am satisfied good reason exists to suspend the sentence on the basis of Gavin Piller’s guilty plea and his reformed character as demonstrated by his hard working and charitable qualities over the past 36 years.”

GP and Sons also pleaded guilty to illegally stockpiling seven tonnes of asbestos at its Wingfield depot between January 29 and February 2, 2018, and a further 10 tonnes at its Largs Bay depot between March 27 and May 2, 2018. Judge Muscat said the offending demonstrated the company’s blatant disregard for its responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act and had “exposed the community and its own employees”.

The company was fined $49,000.

EPA chief executive Tony Circelli said Piller’s punishment sent a strong message to “anyone attempting to intimidate or assault EPA officers during the course of their duties”. He said the EPA officers were documenting the contents of two skip bins containing wrapped and unwrapped asbestos on April 3, 2018 at Largs Bay when they were abused and attacked.

“This type of illegal activity will not be tolerated — it risks both harm to the environment and the community, and damages confidence for investment and fair play for legitimate waste operators,” he said.

Piller wrote a letter of apology addressed to the court, the EPA and its officers, expressing regret and accepting “full responsibility for his poor and unacceptable behaviour that afternoon”.

Source: ABC News

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