A government warning has been issued about the dangers of interfering at a vast illegal rubbish dump, after a group of campaigners claimed to have begun removing material.
A group called Anonymous North West issued a statement saying it had started a “clean-up operation” at the Mobuoy Road site outside Londonderry.
The site is often reported to be among the biggest illegal waste dumps in Europe.
It stands to the eastern bank of the River Faughan, about one mile from the edge of the city.
This week, the Derry Journal carried a message from Anonymous North West along with photographs of them clad in cartoon-style masks.
In it, the group voiced concerns about the impact the site could have on the Faughan and on Londonderry’s drinking water.
Two different businesses had formerly operated from the site.
By the time a major report was published into the scandal in late 2013, the site was estimated to involve more than 500,000 tonnes of rubbish spread over 46 hectares – although further inspections have since revealed more.
The report – known as the Mills Report – said that despite repeated concerns being raised about it since at least 2003, resulting in a wave of visits from inspectors, “the illegal dumping was not discovered until 2012”.
The ‘Anonymous’ statement described the authorities’ handling of the case as “shameful”.
Its members said that “we have no other choice but to now with urgency commence the clean-up operation ourselves with a view to forcing the authorities to treat this issue with the urgency and seriousness that it deserves”.
They said they would “remove without further delay all of the waste in its entirety”, adding that “we are calling on Derry City and Strabane District Council and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to offer us direction as to how and where, we can safely dispose of the materials we have already removed and will continue to remove over the coming weeks and months”.
In response, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said it had found “no evidence of any adverse impact” on the Faughn or Londonderry’s drinking water, but added that it “remains vigilant in this respect”.
The department said that a strategy must be followed for the removal of the waste.
It said: “We would strongly discourage anyone from any kind of involvement at the Mobuoy Road waste site.
“Dealing with illegal controlled waste or any other landfill site requires strict health and safety measures.
“There are risks, for example, of harmful gasses arising and leachates [that is, harmful liquids] migrating, particularly when the ground is disturbed.
“Added to this is the potential for unintentional harm to the environment through interference with pollution pathways which are already being monitored.”
It said that moving waste without a licence or permission could be illegal, and that entering the site raises “matters of potential trespass”.
The group Anonymous North West appears to claim a loose affiliation with an online fraternity called Anonymous, whose members have repeatedly carried out cyber attacks against organisations ranging from national governments to Islamic State.