A TILLSIDE FARMER’S long-running grievance with Environment Agency officers over pollution problems at his New Heaton dairy farm erupted into a confrontation, Berwick magistrates heard on Tuesday (October 2).
It resulted in James Aaron Laing of East Learmouth, Cornhill on Tweed, Northumberland, being fined a total of £1,246 with £2,400 costs for charges involving assaulting EA officer James Kirkup, who was further awarded £250 compensation.
The 54-year-old farmer had denied charges of common assault, obstructing the EA officer in the lawful execution of his duties and using threatening, abusive words and violent behaviour during the stand-off at New Heaton Farm last January.
The court had heard at an earlier adjourned hearing that Mr Laing turned up at New Heaton after being informed that a contractor had been ordered by Mr Kirkup and a female colleague to stop spraying dirty water and slurry after they examined a polluted ditch.
“You arrived at New Heaton and walked up to the officer with clenched fists, you were mad that the contractor had been stopped and it led to violence when you barged Mr Kirkup in the chest,” the prosecuting solicitor suggested.
Mr Laing denied any violence, saying: “I was annoyed but not mad. I asked why the EA had not phoned me, they were welcome to make an appointment any time.”
Prosecutor: “Do you accept there could be reasons for the EA not to give advance warning of a visit?”
Laing: “Yes, there could be. But the pollution in the stream had nothing to do with the farm.”
Prosecutor: “By swearing at him and telling him to leave, weren’t you in a rage, obstructing the EA officer?”
Laing: “No. I don’t fly off the handle, I’m level-headed businessman.”
In his evidence, Mr Laing denied taunting the officer to throw a punch so he could ‘claim self-defence’ and insisted that no physical contact had taken place. He also denied Mr Kirkup’s allegation that he had threatened to ‘burn down your house and harm your family’.
He said he wanted the EA officers to leave the farm on health and safety grounds because there were cattle around which might cause injury. He also denied trying to grab Mr Kirkup’s mobile phone and insisted that he had ‘told 100 per cent truth’.
But the prosecuting solicitor reminded the court that there were two witnesses who corroborated Mr Kirkup’s account: his female colleague who spoke of him being white-faced and with a wobble in his voice after the confrontation and an EA officer who heard the threats over Mr Kirkup’s mobile phone which was connected at the time.
Describing Mr Laing’s version of events as “not credible and contradictory” magistrates found him guilty of assault, obstructing an officer and using threats and abuse.
They fined him £632 on the first and third counts and ordered a 12-month conditional discharge on the second, meaning that should he be found guilty of other offences within a year then that charge would be revisited.
Mr Laing agreed to pay off almost £4,000 at £500 per month