Environment Secretary George Eustice has revealed that a criminal investigation is under way at Saxon Pit, Whittlesey, where 122,000 tonnes of potentially hazardous waste was dumped.

Mr Eustice will visit the site with his parliamentary under-secretary, MP Jo Churchill, and NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay.

“The Environment Agency is currently proceeding with a criminal investigation,” Mr Eustice told Mr Barclay.

“The investigation is complex and involves large scale offending and multiple suspects.”

He said: “A series of interviews under caution have taken place and the final set of interviews focussing on those with control of the site of the site will take place shortly.”

In his letter to Mr Barclay, dated June 14 and released by the MP last night, Mr Eustice apologised for delays in responding to the concerns that had been raised.

He told Mr Barclay: “I appreciate your concerns over the amount of time that has been taken to address the problems with the site.

“I am digging further into the specifics of the case and holding a deep dive to see what we can do to speed up this case.”

And, he added, to see “what should have been done differently”.

He recognised that Mr Barclay had been “unsatisfied” by actions of the Environment Agency, and promised “I will investigate and challenge this”.

Mr Eustice said he was fully aware of the remediation works under way and that phase one was 95 per cent complete.

Work had started on phase two of five along the eastern boundary of the site.

“The final restoration layer within phase one will be completed following the installation of the below ground impermeable clay plug to prevent or minimise water ingress entering the pit,” he said.

“Once fully landscaped the restoration scheme should include standing water environments, reed beds, grasslands and scrub habitat.”

Eighteen months ago, angry councillors called for the Environment Agency (EA) to explain why legal action had not been taken.

As I first revealed, the illegal dumping at the former Saxon Pit brickworks persisted over many years.

And when it was discovered, and tests revealed the toxicity of the illegal waste, the Environment Agency pondered then quietly dropped legal action.

“I'll be quite honest with you,” said Chris Boden, a Whittlesey town, district and county councillor.

“To my mind, the Environment Agency has failed abysmally to fulfil its legal functions.

“But the Environment Agency faces perilously little accountability for its actions and inactions, especially at local level.”

A study by the EA of 50 samples revealed that 43 contain “sufficient chemical contaminants to render them hazardous”.

Instead, the EA accepted that the “non-conforming” waste at Saxon Pit could stay after containment measures were put in place.

This, says the EA, was to ensure leachate (fluids) and landfill gas arising from the imported waste is not allowed to escape.

Studies showed that the waste had been “unlawfully buried within the void between October 2017 and February 2018.

“This excludes waste unlawfully accepted and buried by previous operators pre-October 2017”.

In April of this year new operators were given permission for a centre to recycle incinerator ash, despite hundreds of objections.

The approval means incinerator ash, as well as construction demolition waste can be imported, stored, and processed at the former brickworks, off Peterborough Road, in Whittlesey.

The application was made by Johnsons Aggregates and Recycling Limited, who were not connected with the site when the alleged illegal dumping was undertaken.

Johnsons says the site will not be an incinerator, but will import incinerator bottom ash (IBA), as well as construction and demolition waste for recycling.

Mr Barclay last year described it as “not acceptable” that a recycling plant could go ahead in Whittlesey within the same disused brickworks where illegal waste has been dumped.”

At the time the Environment Agency was inviting comments on the application for an environmental permit application to build a waste recycling plant handling 500,000 tonnes a year at the Saxon Pit former brickworks in Whittlesey.

“Yet this is being done without resolving outstanding issues which remain of deep concern,” said Mr Barclay.