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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Illegal meat trade's 'drugs profits'
Peter Roberts
Peter Roberts: Fled before the trial began
Consumers were warned condemned meat could still be sold for human consumption despite the conviction of six men who recycled 450 tons of unfit poultry to firms that supplied supermarkets, hospitals and schools.

Detectives said the offence, which involves criminals doctoring potentially diseased waste meat to make it appear healthy, is more profitable than drug trafficking.

And although fresh efforts have been made to halt the fraud, the scandal may be continuing across the UK.

Nottingham Crown Court was told on Friday the Crown would not order a retrial of three men accused of conspiracy to defraud after jurors failed to reach verdicts and were discharged.

The court had heard that the gang, based at rat-infested and sewage ridden premises in Denby, butchered one million unfit chickens and turkeys before selling the meat on for almost 1m profit.

Ringleader Peter Roberts, 68, known as "Maggot Pete", was convicted of the fraud in his absence on Wednesday after fleeing before the start of the 12-week trial.

Police said a warrant has been issued for the arrest of the former owner of Denby Poultry Products, of Francis Street, Derby, who is believed to be in Spain.

Chickens at Denby Poultry
The chickens were not fit for human consumption
Five other men have already pleaded guilty to the same offence and another was this week cleared by the jury.

The court was told that businesses in Northampton, Milton Keynes and Bury supplied the Derbyshire produce, in many cases unwittingly, to about 600 customers across the UK.

Ben Nolan QC, prosecuting, said that Denby Poultry bought waste carcasses from slaughterhouses for about 25 per ton and later sold the meat cuts back into the human food chain for upwards of 1,500 per ton.

It was licensed only to produce pet food products, but was able to take advantage of poor enforcement of regulations governing food standards.

"Over the whole period of this alleged conspiracy, very large quantities of condemned poultry entered the human food chain at significant risk to public health," said Mr Nolan.

He said that some of the meat was likely to have been contaminated with bacterial hepatitis, staphylococcus and E.coli-septicaemia.

'Fatal effect'

After the hearing, food safety expert Professor Hugh Pennington, head of the University of Aberdeen Department of Medical Microbiology, said the poultry would also have been riddled with salmonella and campylobacter.

"For the elderly, or those in hospital, it is a greater effort for the body's defence systems to fight off these bugs," said Mr Pennington.

"If the meat wasn't prepared properly and had salmonella present, the effect can be fatal."

Jurors were earlier told that MK Poultry, a Northampton customer of Denby and run by two men who have already pleaded guilty, sold chicken to Sainsbury's and Shippam's for the production of pastes and pates.

In a sense, when you look at the figures, this is more profitable than drug trafficking
Det Insp Neil Perry

B Davies Meats, based in Bury, and run by former Commonwealth Games wrestler Brian William John Davies, 64, unknowingly sold the unfit poultry as fillet to Kwik Save.

Mr Davies and his son, ex-England schoolboy footballer Brian Paul Davies, 37, were both cleared of conspiracy by the jury.

A third man David Watson, 38, director of SJ Watson, a food processor in Milton Keynes, was also cleared after the court heard that his firm had packaged the poultry and sold at markets, believing it to be healthy food.

Denby van driver Simon Haslam, 39, of Shalfleet Drive, Derby, was also found not guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

Police, who investigated the racket for two years following an anonymous tip-off, said that Denby employees were able to collect waste birds at will from slaughterhouses across the country.

The court also heard that produce was taken to and from the ramshackle Derbyshire factory in the firm's, unrefrigerated, maggot-infested and blood-stained vans.

Health inspectors examine meat
The meat was classed unfit for human consumption
Detective Inspector Neil Perry, who led the police inquiry for Derbyshire police, said: "The reason why this practice began is simple: the criminals saw an opportunity to exploit existing loopholes in regulations to put the unfit meat back into the food chain.

"In a sense, when you look at the figures, this is more profitable than drug trafficking.

"They were getting their raw material for free or at a low cost and selling it on for vast profits."

Roberts will be sentenced later this year or early next year with five men who earlier pleaded guilty to the same offence.

They are: David Lawton, 55, of Beech Avenue, Sandiacre, Derbyshire; Robert Mattock, 59, of Longley Hall, Norland, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire; George Allen, 47, of Downall Green Road, Ashton in Makerfield, Greater Manchester; Gary Drewett, 33, of St Johns Road, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire and Mark Durrant, 31, of Kingsford, Milton Keynes.

The BBC's Peter Lane
"Green, rotting and infested with maggots"

Unfit meat 'riddled with bacteria'
29 Aug 03  |  Derbyshire
Fit to police the food industry?
29 Aug 03  |  Business

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