Hitchin recycling site director apologises for racist rant against Muslims

Winters Recycling in Hitchin's Hunting Gate. Picture: JP Asher

Winters Recycling in Hitchin's Hunting Gate. Picture: JP Asher - Credit: Archant

A Hitchin recycling company director has told the Comet a manager who responded to a question about air pollution with racist comments about “the Muslims” was joking and now wants to apologise.

Air pollution at Winters, shown in this photograph taken from the other side of Hunting Gate in Hitc

Air pollution at Winters, shown in this photograph taken from the other side of Hunting Gate in Hitchin. Picture: Colin Nunn - Credit: Archant

Asked by the Comet today about air quality figures in a new report from the Bionet monitoring team at the University of Hertfordshire, Winters Recycling manager Lee Hadjioannou said: “It’s the Muslims you need to worry about, blowing stuff up.”

Peter Salter, director of the Hunting Gate firm, has now told this paper Mr Hadjioannou “would like to apologise for any and all offence caused, on behalf of myself, Lee and the team at Winters Recycling”.

In a statement, Mr Salter said: “Lee’s comments were poorly judged and meant in jest, in reference to how we feel we are often treated as terrorists – supposedly ‘poisoning’ the air around our site when we are in fact regulated and regularly checked by our licensing body, the Environment Agency.

“We also dispute the claims we are a dust nuisance as we are a closed site and would like to highlight that the pictures featured on your article are misleading as they are in fact pictures of our sprinkler systems – which are installed on the side of our building, purely to keep the dust particles from becoming airborne. The wet floor is actually visible in the pictures featured in your article.

“If you would be interested we do have video evidence of other vehicles causing dust pollution on their area of the yard, but we would like to stress that these vehicles have nothing to do with Winters or any of our associated partners.”

The Comet has asked Mr Salter for clarification regarding points in this statement and what action the firm might be taking towards Mr Hadjioannou in light of his comments.

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This paper has also asked Mr Salter for his response to the Bionet report – whose author Richard Smith concluded that the recycling operation was threatening the “health, comfort and wellbeing” of staff at neighbouring business Aston Microphones, as well as “residents of Hitchin downwind”.

Aston managing director James Young commissioned the report after becoming concerned about his employees’ health. He has called Mr Salter’s statement “absolute nonsense”, adding: “Any suggestion that the clouds of dust pictured are ‘sprinkler systems’ is laughable.”

Bionet found that where around 10,000 to 50,000 air particles per cubic metre would be expected, more than 630,000 per cubic metre were recorded on the Aston fire escape stairway.

The team also found levels of airborne bacteria and fungi exceeded the guideline level of bacteria from composting sites “by a factor of four”.

Bionet reported that material deposited on external surfaces was “almost entirely organic in origin”, and concluded that the site had last month switched to handling organic waste.

Asked for comment on the report, an Environment Agency spokesman told this paper: “The Environment Agency has received several complaints about excessive dust and noise from a permitted waste site in Hitchin. Our officers are aware of the concerns of neighbouring properties and are working with Hertfordshire County Council to resolve the issues.”

The Comet has contacted the county council for comment.

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