BBC podcast reveals new details on Northern Ireland environmental scandal

Podcast investigation reveals officials may have broken the law in dumping case

BBC Radio 4 has launched a new investigative podcast revealing new details in the 10-year-old Mobouy waste case - which involved the illegal dumping of around one million tonnes of toxic waste near a supply of drinking water in Northern Ireland. 

The ten-part podcast series, titled Buried, is hosted by environmental film-makers and investigative journalists Dan Ashby and Lucy Taylor, who found evidence including a key memo which was missing from a Freedom of Information Act release.

The memo contained a message from an official to a top civil servant indicating that government officials may have known that their handling of the affected site could have broken the law. 

The podcast was born after a deathbed tape recording from truck driver Joe Ferguson - who was involved in the Mobouy crime - was unveiled, with clues indicating that there was more to the case than the public knew. After obtaining a copy of the recording, Taylor and Ashby went on to conduct a two-year investigation into waste crime in the UK. 

“Everything about this crime has shocked us, from its scale to the years of silence around it,” said Taylor. “And we found that although we started by looking at this one example of illegal dumping, the more we learnt about the wider trend, the more we realised that the same thing is happening across the UK.” 

Along with interviewing a number of guests like a top satellite waste investigator, the podcast reveals exclusive information about the case, including findings from an Ombudsman recording how the Northern Ireland Department of Environment failed to protect the environment through a “decade of maladministration”. 

Taylor mentioned a particular interview with a waste crime investigator, who told them that they wouldn’t be able to go on the motorway or train without seeing the signs of an illegal dump once they started to know what they were looking for. 

The pair also travelled to Naples to explore the lasting effects of other waste dumps on local communities and the land, and investigated the history of waste crime in the UK as a whole, as well as the involvement of criminals and the mafia in handling waste dumps. 

“We know there are hundreds of illegal dumps in the UK. We know waste crime is a one-billion pound industry. We know they are smuggling guns and drugs. We know toxic dumps are threatening families. The only thing we don’t yet understand is how awful the cost will be to the planet,” said Ashby. “We can pretend all this is buried, but it’s not - it’s coming back to bite us.” 

The Department of Infrastructure in Northern Island claims it has no record of the memo in question, but said that it accepted the Ombudsman’s report findings and has since implemented better environmental changes including more checks, regulations, and the training of more that 200 planning officers. Northern Island’s Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs also said that it has increased its drinking water supply testing and has said that there have been no impacts due to the waste dump. 

Buried isn’t the first investigative journalism podcast to share exclusive insights on a case or issue, and podcasting is becoming a more common medium to break news. ITV’s Partygate: The Inside Story podcast, for example, revealed exclusive stories and details behind the Downing Street parties and is hosted by ITV News UK editor Paul Brand. 

Other investigative journalists to lead podcasts and podcast companies include Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of podcast network Serial, John Sweeney, host of Global’s interview series Sweeney Talks, Brian Reed, co-host of the Trojan Horse Affair podcast, and Bradley Hope and Tom Wright, co-founders of investigative journalism podcast production company, Project Brazen

“In our case, we're looking for amazing deep stories that we think have a lot of room for exploration,” Hope told PodPod. “...In all podcasts, my realisation is that authenticity is the key and intimacy. [Podcasting] is the most intimate form of story-telling and engagement because you're in someone's ear.”