Butcher jailed for fraudulent labelling of foreign meat claiming “Best British”

Warwickshire Butcher Simon Drust, of St Johns Close, Studley (51), owner/director of the Meat Shack in Studley has been given a two years and nine months jail sentence for fraudulent trading and making false representations, contrary to the Companies Act 2006 & Fraud Act 2006 respectively.

The Meat Shack (Studley) Limited was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay costs of £54,527 for fraud by false representations (contrary to the Fraud Act 2006) and engaging in a commercial practices which contravened the requirements of professional diligence (contrary to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008). A Proceeds of Crime Confiscation Order was also made against the company for the sum of £127,690.

The hearing took place at Warwick Crown Court on Thursday 25th April 2019.

A joint investigation by Warwickshire County Council Trading Standards Service and Stratford District Council Environmental Health began after a customer had purchased a packet of chicken breast labelled as of British origin, however, when they got home and peeled off the label they found a sticker underneath indicating the product was in fact from the Netherlands.

Advertisements in newspapers often stated “Buy British – All Beef, Pork, Lamb & Chicken”, alongside Union Jacks, when in fact the business was buying large quantities of New Zealand Lamb, Dutch and Danish Gammon, Dutch and Belgian Chicken and Brazilian and Irish Beef.

The shop prominently displayed signage including Union Jack flags making false claims as to the origin of meat sold. Claims were made over the shops chiller units that the meats were British.

An inspection of the premise and subsequent enquiries found:

  • Labels applied to meat stating the country of origin was UK when it was not
  • Non-British meat and poultry being sold under banners stating “Best British Beef”, “Best British Pork”, “Best British Chicken & Poultry” and “Best British Lamb”
  • Beef described as 100% British “Aberdeen Angus” & “Hereford Beef” when it was not
  • Pork labelled as “free range” when it was not
  • Previously frozen meat being sold that was not labelled as ‘previously frozen’

Prosecuting Barrister Tony Watkin referred to the Meat Shack as a “Meat Fraud Factory” where consumers were being sold a lie as to the food they were purchasing.

In mitigation, Mr Quentin Hunt representing Mr Drust submitted to the court a number of character references from friends, staff and suppliers and outlined his support of a number of charities. Mr Hunt conveyed to the court that Mr Drust apologised to the Court and the public and that it was never his intention to defraud people. He had started from nothing, working from a mobile butcher van and built up the Meat Shack business.

In summing up HHJ Griffith-Jones indicated Simon Drust intended to make gains for himself and cause losses to others by fraud, “you did it by tricking people into engaging in transactions by pretending meat was of British origin and had good animal welfare background and customers will want to buy out of loyalty to their own country and concern for the environment, food which has not travelled unnecessary distance”.

HHJ Griffith-Jones also stated that the fraudulent trading had extended over a sustained period and that the “damage extends beyond intended gain because legitimate businesses advertising the same product lose out to you ”.

A further three defendants received a caution from Warwickshire Trading Standards Services in October 2018 and the charges against them were allowed to lie on the court file .

Scott Tompkins, Assistant Director – Environment Services, said:

“It is completely unacceptable that a business should mislead its customers and I’m delighted that Warwickshire Trading Standards has taken this action to protect consumers”

“It is a legal requirement for butchers to display the correct Country of Origin labels on their meat products and not make false or misleading claims”.

Barrister Tony Watkin of St Ives Chambers prosecuted on behalf of Warwickshire Trading Standards

Simon Drust & the company were represented by Barrister Quentin Hunt 2 Bedford Row

A financial investigation, leading to the Confiscation Order was undertaken by Central Bedfordshire Council on behalf of Warwickshire County Council.

More information about Warwickshire Trading Standards is available on the website:   https://www.warwickshire.gov.uk/tradingstandards