HAMPSHIRE County Council has been caught secretly dumping tons of recycled waste in a hole in the countryside.

Piles of newspapers, tin cans, drink cartons and other items are being tipped in a landfill site instead of being sorted for further use.

The news is certain to anger those residents who regularly fill up their recycling bins in the belief that they are helping the environment.

Lib-Dem Councillor John Shaw, who made the discovery, described it as a "disgrace and a scandal".

He was amazed to learn that more than 1300 tons of recyclable materials have been dumped in a landfill site since last May.

"This amount of paper, plastics and cans would fill a typical refuse collection vehicle 300 times over," he claimed.

Councillor Keith House, Lib-Dem environment spokesman, accused the Tory-controlled council of a cover up.

"Why were councillors kept in the dark about what was going on?" he asked. "Did those in charge think that they would not be found out?"

The disposal of Hampshire's waste is dealt with by Project Integra - described as an innovative partnership of the county's local authorities.

And within hours of the scandal breaking, the organisation's bosses were desperately trying to save face.

Councillor Richard Williams, chairman of Project Integra's management board, blamed the situation on a current lack of capacity for dealing with recyclables.

He said a new facility was being constructed near Alton which, in due course, would be able to process an extra 85,000 tons of material a year. "Unfortunately this has meant that in the short term a very small percentage of poorer quality recyclable material has had to be landfilled," he said.

Coun Williams added that, as a stopgap measure, the recyclable "overflow" would now be sent to a processing plant elsewhere in the south of England.

This would end the need for the materials to be dumped in the ground.