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By Michael Brown

Senior Staff Writer

27 April 2021

| | 4 min read


Man fined for illegal bonfire amid warnings that burning rubbish could be deadly

Families face fines if they illegally burn rubbish amid warnings of rising number of bonfires, which could pose a serious danger to people’s health.

Flames rise from the illegal bonfire that Andrew Brown, 56, of Grainger Park Road in Elswick, was prosecuted for
The illegal bonfire that Andrew Brown, 56, of Grainger Park Road in Elswick, was prosecuted for

A Newcastle man has been left more than £750 worse off after pleading guilty to using a bed headboard to help start a garden waste blaze.

And environmental health officers say they are receiving increasing calls to reports of smoke and flames – some of which could have deadly consequences.

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.

“Think of how having a bonfire could affect everyone else in your community, and then think long and hard about how dangerous it could be for others who, with the Covid-19 still very much with us, may be suffering from the effects of a virus that affects the chest and breathing.

“Even if there wasn’t a pandemic, bonfires can be not only detrimental to the health of you and those around you but deadly. 

“Just this week we responded to a fire, the smoke of which could be seen from miles away, and found someone burning a huge pile of mattresses - That’s something that can release cyanide, which is potentially lethal if inhaled.”

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.

Plus, there are more appropriate ways to dispose of rubbish.

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 via our garden waste page, or the local authority can offer advice and discounted equipment to help you compost at home.

Man pleads guilty to bonfire envirocrime

On Thursday April 22 Andrew Brown, 56, of Grainger Park Road in Elswick pleaded guilty at Newcastle Magistrates Court to disposing of waste in a manner likely to cause pollution or harm to human health.

District judge Paul Currer heard that on October 14 2020 council officers were patrolling the West End of Newcastle when they smelled smoke and saw it coming from the grounds of a property on Grainger Park Road.

There they found Brown standing over an already lit fire, on which was a bed headboard, made of treated wood, which it is illegal to burn because toxic chemicals are produced which can be harmful if inhaled.

Brown admitted at the scene he had started the fire which was predominantly made up of vegetation.

In mitigation solicitor Lewis Pearson said that Brown had sought to burn his excess garden waste – which is legal – but had needed something to get the fire started, and had pulled a headboard from a container in his yard that contained mixed waste that was awaiting collection by a waste contractor. He accepted that was the wrong thing to have done.

Brown, who the court heard was of limited means, was fined £110, ordered to pay costs of £590, with a £70 victim surcharge.

Bonfires an ongoing issue

During the pandemic the numbers of complaints to the council and calls to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue regarding bonfires has increased dramatically.

In the first three and a half months of 2021 alone the fire service has responded to 187 false alarms as well intentioned neighbours or passers-by called in the emergency services to reports of smoke, tying up potentially lifesaving resources.

Firefighters have also tackled 10 blazes where flames have spread from bonfires to other flammable materials like fences.

Peter Heath, deputy chief fire officer at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue, said: “Firefighters are increasingly responding to garden fires, often ‘bonfires’ that have spread to fences and other materials or where the fire contains items causing smoke hazardous to human health.

“These fires are a significant source of air pollution and the smoke can include poisonous gases, such as carbon monoxide and can easily spread.

“Our advice is very straightforward and clear – please do not burn household waste, plastics, rubber or any other material, which could cause harmful smoke.”

How to dispose of waste properly

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic all of Newcastle City Council’s green general waste, blue recycling and brown garden waste collections have continued as normal.

The city’s three household waste and recycling centres at Brunswick, Byker and Walbottle are also open, to their summer timetable, with measures in place to manage access, and ensure safety and social distancing.

This includes an “odds and evens” system to determine which days you can visit, and a requirement to show identification and proof of address, with only Newcastle residents allowed in.

Please be very wary should you look to arrange for someone else to take their waste away, as if it is dumped, the courts can fine you.

If using a skip hire or recycling contractor please check that they are authorised by the Environment Agency via the public register of waste carriers.

Reporting bonfires and environmental crimes

If bonfire is lit and causing a problem then please call the fire service.

If it is unlit or extinguished please report it using our Envirocall service at, call environmental health on  0191 278 7878 or email, providing as much detail as possible, such as what is being burnt, if that is known, and who is doing the burning.

Find out more

For more information about disposing of your rubbish and recycling responsibly see our recycling, rubbish and waste information page.