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EHOs' role in smashing horsemeat gang glossed over

Stuart Spear23/08/2017 - 15:54

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Andronicos Sideras sentenced to four-and-a-half-years
Andronicos Sideras sentenced to four-and-a-half-years

EHOs have raised concerns over the FSA’s failure to acknowledge the key role they played in last month’s successful prosecution of three businessmen for selling horse mislabelled as beef.

The court case resulted in three food criminals being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud for selling horse mislabelled as beef in what is one of the few successful UK prosecution since the horse meat scandal in 2013.

Two of the men, Danish businessman Ulrik Nielsen, 58, and his administrator Alex Beech, 44, operated out of the Hull based food brokerage FlexiFoods. 

The third man involved, Andronicos Sideras, 55, was the owner of a cold store and processing plant, Dinos, in Tottenham, north London.

The judge overseeing the three-week trial at the Inner London Crown Court described the case as a ‘web of intrigue’ involving horsemeat being bought in Ireland and beef sourced from Poland being mixed and then mislabelled in Tottenham using false paperwork to eventually end up on supermarket shelves.

Mr Sideras was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years in prison and banned from being a company director for 10 years. Mr Nielsen received a three-and-a-half-year sentence and 10-year ban. Mr Beech was given an 18-month sentence suspended for 12-months, a five-year ban and 120 hours community service.

Environmental health played a central role in the case, known as Operation Bold, with EHOs from Newry and Mourne District Council in Northern Ireland initiating the investigation after the discovery that undeclared beef hearts were being used by local food manufacturer Freeza Meats, which has since closed.

EHOs in Hull then took the lead in the investigation of the food broker FlexiFoods, while EHOs from Haringey Council were in contact with Northern Ireland leading to the investigation of Dinos where the adulteration was taking place.

The case focused on 30 tonnes of horsemeat used to adulterate beef over an 11-month period, although the true scale of the operation is not known.

As the case unfolded it became clear that the Tottenham cold store and processing plant was central to the criminal operation. And yet despite Haringey EHOs initially leading the investigation in early 2013, gathering the evidence and then working closely with the City of London police in the eventual fraud prosecution, they have received no acknowledgement from the FSA.

Simon Thomas, who at the time led the Dinos investigation but has since become a private consultant, told EHN he was disappointed in the FSA’s lack of recognition: ‘We were involved as early as October 2012 due to communications from Ireland and the discovery of paperwork showing horse was being bought.

‘This resulted in us leading on further raids and gathering evidence key for the prosecution, the police were not really involved until after we had done the main investigation and passed all the evidence over.’

The case was transferred over to City of London Police when it became clear that it had more chance of success as a fraud rather than a food safety prosecution. 

The role of EHOs in Hull who led on the investigation of FlexiFoods has equally gone unrecognised. As has the role of Newry and Mourne EHOs in initiating the investigation.

EHOs at Wigan council were also involved in tracking down a local cold store where horsemeat was being stored.      

Following the court case the FSA issued a press release stating: ‘the case, investigated by the City of London Police, is a significant landmark for the FSA who first began looking into the circumstances behind the adulteration of meat product with horsemeat in 2013.’

In the press release FSA chair Heather Hancock specifically thanks City of London Police for ‘working closely with the FSA to ensure food criminals are bought to justice’. No mention is made of any local authority involvement.

Paul Turner, principal EHO at Hull City Council, who led on the FlexiFood investigation with trading standard colleagues, said he was extremely disappointed at the FSA’s lack of recognition of the role played by numerous local authority teams that ultimately led to the successful prosecution.

‘I was surprised and disappointed when I read the FSA’s press release and Heather Hancock’s comments given that it was local authorities who provided some of the most crucial evidence,’ said Mr Turner.

‘While the case was finally prosecuted by the City of London Police, it was EHOs who provided the respective local knowledge that was so vitally important.’

Both Mr Turner and Mr Thomas were key witnesses in the prosecution case.

Manager of environmental health and trading standards for Haringey Council Felicia Ekemezuma said: ‘Initially the London end of the operation was led by us, which resulted in us undertaking raids with the FSA supported by local police. We undertook PACE interviews and gathered evidence linking Dinos to FlexiFoods.

‘The case was based on the evidence we gathered and without it these criminals may not have been brought to justice. This outcome demonstrates the important role local authorities play in achieving results.’

The FSA made the following statement concerning a press release it later issued on sentencing: ‘In the statement we published in response to the horsemeat trial sentencing, our Chairman, Heather Hancock, personally acknowledged the “immense effort” and “the key role” played by local authorities in securing the convictions.

‘We have always acknowledged the important work of local authorities in the horsemeat investigation.’

 The November issue of EHN will include a feature outlining the full role played by environmental health in the case    





























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