Cheesemaker victorious in listeria battle

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The Independent Online
One of Britain's leading cheesemakers, Humphrey Errington, was celebrating victory last night after a bitter year-long battle to protect the good name of his Lanark Blue cheese.

More than one tonne of Lanark Blue, worth more than pounds 60,000, was condemned as unfit for human consumption last year after council hygiene officials found traces of listeria in the cheese. Environmental health officers tried to raid Mr Errington's dairy and destroy 44 batches of the gourmet product.

But in a heated confrontation, Mr Errington, 50, refused to allow them on to his land. He insisted the listeria was "natural and harmless" and began a legal battle against the council.

Yesterday he secured victory when a sheriff sitting in Lanark, 15 miles east of Glasgow, ruled that the cheese was safe. Sheriff John Douglas Allan said: "It does not appear to me upon the evidence that the Lanark Blue cheese failed to comply with food safety requirements ... The cheese is not likely to be injurious to health." Dismissing earlier rulings that it should be destroyed, he said some 63,000 portions had been consumed in 1994 without illness.

Sheriff Allan went on to criticise Clydesdale council's environmental health department for using flawed techniques. So-called experts were ill-informed and had been dogmatic and unduly rigid, he said. He "deplored" the council's "combative and confrontational" attack on Mr Errington.

Mr Errington, who raised thousands of pounds from sympathisers in his campaign to protect cheeses like Lanark Blue, which is made from unpasteurised milk, celebrated last night by holding a party with his seven staff at his dairy at Dunsyre in Lanarkshire.

He said the judgment would "send shock waves through all regulatory authorities ... This is a tremendous victory for traditional food makers."

Mr Errington is now planning to sue the council for damages. "I am considering a complaint to the ombudsman alleging maladministration by Clydesdale council and possibly asking the Audit Commission to surcharge councillors for their behaviour." The council faces legal bills of nearly pounds 200,000.