Wed, 20 May 2015
Simon Worlock was instructed on behalf of Colin Patterson in the following case.
R v Colin Patterson and Dafydd Raw-Rees
(JCP Solicitors Carmarthen: Aled Owen)
HUNG FOR A SHEEP OR A GOAT
Before: Southwark Crown Court
(The Recorder of Westminster: HHJ McCreth)
- Regulation 4 of the General Food Regulations 2004 and Regulation 18(3) of the Regulation (EC) 178/2002 (failing to comply with statutory requirements as traceability as it relates to food business operators)
- S. 15(1) Food Safety Act 1990 (20 offences of falsely describing (passing off) goat as mutton and lamb etc.)
- Why is traceability important?
- “What is mutton?” (“ Is it sheep or goat and does it matter?)
- The “new role” of the Food Standards Agency
Sentence (following agreed guilty plea on a basis)
- Mr Patterson: [charges 1 and 17 offences under Charge 2) 12 weeks imprisonment suspended for 2 years concurrently on each offence with no order as to costs
- Mr Raw-Rees: Conditional Discharge 2 years concurrent on each offence with no order as to costs
- This unusual case was concluded on the 18th May 2015 when the trial cracked after a basis of plea was accepted.
- It started life amidst huge public reaction following the Tesco Horsemeat scandal of 2012. As a result steps were taken to safeguard public confidence by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Police, as central Government sought to stop fraud and to prevent any perceived risk to health by horsemeat entering the food chain.
- FSA investigators traced horses being slaughtered and those being imported. Slaughterhouses and abattoirs were visited and enquiries made before and after slaughter. This “traceability” requirement is required by EU Regulation.
- Farms, livestock dealers, abattoirs (which require daily FSA supervision) and Food Operators (already subject to 5 monthly rigorous audits by FSA vets and meat inspectors) were subject to the most rigorous spot checks and where necessary forensic investigation.
- FSA Audits are intended to check systems and food safety. In addition meat inspection is carried out several times each week. Yet no criticism has been previously raised of the Defendants in respect of the matters charged
- The changing role of FSA who have traditionally provided an advisory service to food operators in preventing risk to public health is one of the more interesting features in this case
- FSA case investigations led to Peter Boddy, a Todmorton Licensed Slaughterman. His employee (Nixon) suspiciously changed invoices, which had been sent to Mr Patterson at Farmbox Meats. Instead he provided a forgery to FSA investigators. It was also clear that Mr Boddy was not complying with the traceability requirements. Both faced prosecution as a result.
- Invoices led directly to Farmbox Meats Ltd near Aberystwyth (the defendants) who are food operators who cut meat and sell to wholesalers who serve the British Asian food market, their butchers and suppliers. That mostly involves the poorest cuts of meat, comprising beef mutton, sheep, goats and lamb
- The origin of meat is required by law to be traceable both from suppliers and to the wholesalers.
- Both Defendants were arrested for fraud involving supplying horsemeat disguised as beef into the food chain. They were questioned at great length over 5 months.
- Despite contrary publicity and dozens of FSA vets and investigators being involved, no evidence was ever found of horsemeat being sold as beef, which had been the prime concern of the multimillion pounds UK wide investigation. It did show poor and inaccurate record keeping and in particular large amounts of goat meat, purchased from abroad, frequently sold as mutton or prepared for sale (if not actually sold) as lamb.
- Investigators found 19 samples of meat in Mr Patterson’s freezer wrongly labelled. Most were described as lamb or mutton but were goat. One was a mixture of beef and chicken meat.
- More than one thousand samples of meat were tested in all. The wrongly labelled samples represented about 18% of one day’s output (based on known production).
- Although the issue of horsemeat fraud having been abandoned all concerned were eventually prosecuted by CPS Serious Fraud Division at Westminster
- Boddy and Nixon were prosecuted first for forgery and traceability offences. They received a fine and a suspended prison sentence for the forgery.
- Dafydd Raw-Rees and Colin Patterson were separately prosecuted for traceability offences and 19 offences (relating to the analysis carried out) of falsely describing meat.
- Mr Raw-Rees and Mr Patterson unsuccessfully argued that their trial should be dealt with in Cardiff or Swansea where a jury was more likely to know the local meat trade and food market.
- Several issues were considered. Mr Patterson’s customers habitually used the name “mutton” as referring to both sheep and goats and the price and profit was the same. An expert prosecution witness was willing to confirm this. The falsity was thus notional since the market understood the labelling system and there was no record of any dissatisfaction or returns.
- Secondly the small number of packages/boxes was minimal compared with their level of production. The mistakes were not human error and no one was deceived.
- As a direct result of FSA intervention the business closed and all meat (about £500,000 worth) was seized. Overall the business lost over £1 million in assets
- Fourthly it was argued that the 5 monthly FSA veterinary inspections which were clearly intended to identify poor system, had failed to find any problems at Farmbox. In their 2 years of trading the company had never failed an audit.
- Finally the company was broadly complying with the FSA guidelines then understood and that the FSA had changed their standards (as policed at audit) overnight in response to pressure from Central Government. At nor stage did FSA ever warn the company they were non compliant. This was contrary to former FSA guidance.
- Result: Guilty plea on a basis
- The learned Recorder dealt with both defendants differently having already concluded Boddy and Nixon.
- He concluded that Mr Patterson was not fraudulent but extremely negligent whose records were necessary to protect public health. The traceability requirements were self-evident. The records were a mess. The labelling stemmed from poor record keeping. The term mutton could only describe sheep of a certain age and not goat. The public had a right to know what they are buying and eating. No order for costs as no means
- POCA will not proceed
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