THOUSANDS of used tyres were cleared from an illegally-run site after the operator was declared bankrupt.

Peter Melvyn Sweeney gathered an estimated 26,000 tyres within a few months on land at Daleside Works, overlooked by a residential street, in Craghead, near Stanley, County Durham.

Although Sweeney's former partner in the business, WM Tyres, acquired a waste carriers' licence, permitting collection of used tyres from cars and lorries, there was no waste management licence in force allowing storage of tyres on site.

Durham Crown Court heard that when Environment Agency officials visited in October last year, Sweeney claimed he was planning to buy a shredder to help remove the stockpile.

He confirmed that he collected the tyres from local garages and was paid 50p per car tyre and £3.50 for those from commercial vehicles.

Graham Duff, prosecuting, for the Environment Agency said the site clear-up had cost the taxpayer more than £23,000.

He said that apart from being unsightly, such sites posed a potential fire hazard.

Mr Duff added that from 2003, a landfill directive will outlaw dumping of whole tyres. It will also take in shredded tyres by 2006.

Michael Graham, for Sweeney, said on setting up the business he made contact with local councils, and the Environment Agency, to ensure it was, "no fly- by-night operation".

"He was conscious of the safety issues and there was an attempt to better the site facilities," he said.

Mr Graham said Sweeney had made contact with the agency and made early submissions about the waste management licence, without taking it further.

Sweeney, 51, of Davis Crescent, Langley Park, near Durham City, admitted two breaches of controlled waste regulations.

Judge Peter Armstrong said that given his financial circumstances, a realistic punishment was a £500 fine with a £500 costs' contribution.