Butcher told of poison risk

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The award-winning butcher at the centre of Britain's worst food poisoning epidemic sold suspect meat after twice being told by health officials to withdraw it.

As the epidemic claimed its seventh victim, it emerged that John Barr had promised officials from North Lanarkshire council that he would sell no cooked meats after they identified his shop in Wishaw as a possible source of the outbreak. But, less than two hours later, he supplied turkey, ham and roast beef for an eighteenth birthday party at which several people appear to have been poisoned.

The family who threw the party said yesterday that they were considering legal action. William and Fay MacFarlane, who held the party at the Cascade pub in Wishaw for their daughter, Lauren, said a relative checked with Mr Barr and officials from the Lanarkshire Health Board before guests were offered the meat - both insisted that it would be fine. Last night the hospital apologised to the family for giving it inaccurate advice.

Strathclyde Police and the Procurator Fiscal, the Scottish crown prosecutor, have now been called in to investigate the outbreak. More than 330 people are suspected of being infected with the E. coli 0157 bacterium. Of those, there are 176 confirmed cases, 52 are in hospital and 24, mainly elderly, are giving cause for concern.

Mr Barr, this year's Scottish Butcher of the Year, was not available for comment yesterday, but a spokesman for the environmental services department of the North Lanarkshire council said its officials had contacted him on Friday 22 November when they realised there was an outbreak of E. coli poisoning. "At 6.30pm, we told Mr Barr that his shop was a possible source of the outbreak and we asked him not to sell any cooked meats for the time being. He agreed not to," said the spokesman. "The following day, at 7.30am, our officers visited his shop to conduct tests and again asked that he not sell any cooked meat. Again, he agreed."

However, at 9am, a relative of the MacFarlanes visited the shop and collected cooked meats for the party. Through their solicitor, Paul Santoni, the MacFarlanes expressed anger and concern that their guests had been put at risk. One elderly female relative is in hospital with E. coli poisoning and a number of others from the 106 present are ill.

The man who collected the meat was Mrs MacFarlane's uncle, David Moon. He told Mr Santoni that he spoke personally to Mr Barr and was told that the scare related only to corned beef and chopped pork. "Mr Barr told Mr Moon there was no need to worry about the other meats," said Mr Santoni. "The day after the party, Mr Moon found a message on his telephone answering machine from Mr Barr saying he could arrange an alternative supply if there were any concerns about his. But by then, it was too late."

Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, said he was growing ever more concerned about the outbreak. He said: "The thing that is causing me most anxiety are the reports which we are getting from the local authority that the meat was supplied for the function ... by the butcher the day after he agreed to cease the sale of cooked meat. I look forward to receiving an explanation for that."

The local authority said it would be inappropriate to comment on that suggestion. Mr Barr's solicitor, George Moore, said he was "surprised" the health board had given details of meat supplies when the matter was under investigation.

The seventh victim, a 74-year- old man, died at Monklands hospital yesterday morning.

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