A FARMER discovered a heap of asbestos dumped in secluded woodland in Banbury.

Cherwell District Council has launched an investigation after the 16 sheets of asbestos were uncovered in Nethercote, by a farmer feeding his sheep.

Although harmless if handled properly and left undisturbed, asbestos can produce toxic fibres when moved or damaged, which has been linked to a number of cancers.

The council suspects a rogue waste collection service could be responsible for the act, which it described as 'callous'.

It is appealing for witnesses who may have seen suspicious activity at a layby near Blacklocks Hill in Banbury in the first week of October.

District councillor Debbie Pickford, Cherwell's lead member for clean and green, said: "This is a very disappointing act and the council is determined to hold the offenders to account. 

"Based on the amount of material recovered, we suspect a firm of contractors or a rogue waste collection service may have been involved.

"The sheets of asbestos were very carefully placed to keep them out of public view, showing a callous element of premeditation. 

"Asbestos requires specialist handling, and there are lots of professional contractors covering our district who can dispose of it safely and legally.

"I urge anyone who has any information about this dangerous fly-tip to contact the council so our enforcement team can investigate."

The council wants to prosecute the offenders so it can recover the cost to the taxpayer of removing the material. 

Illegal waste disposal in a public place is an offence punishable by a fine of up to £50,000, or 12 months imprisonment if convicted in a magistrates' court.

The offence can attract an unlimited fine and up to five years' imprisonment for perpetrators convicted in a crown court.

Anyone with information can contact the council in confidence on 01295 227007.