Cockroaches and mice found in Diana's favourite supermarket

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The Independent Online

Sainsbury's flagship superstore, which boasts the Princess of Wales and Elton John as customers, has been threatened with prosecution because of an infestation of vermin.

Correspondence obtained by the Independent shows environmental health officials from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have been concerned about hygiene at the Cromwell Road store, west London, since last February.

Despite two visits during which warnings were given to the store management, the environmental services department of the council found as recently as 14 November that "there is a current problem with a mouse infestation in areas of the premises". Staff at the store say they also regularly see cockroaches.

A letter dated 15 November from Aoife Gardiner, a Kensington and Chelsea environmental health officer, to Peter Sones, general manager of the store, says: "Urgent and effective attention must be given to this situation with a view to eliminating the infestation from the premises and preventing any further ingress of pests. Pest infestations in a food premises are obviously an unacceptable situation. Please note this Directorate may consider taking further legal action on this matter."

Mrs Gardiner said she was aware that a pest control company, Peter Cox Environmental Services, had been engaged to tackle the problems, but she concluded: "It is my opinion that this problem is not being dealt with in a sufficiently effective manner."

She added that she raised the question of areas of the store being securely proofed against "pests" on 16 and 28 February, but the letter demonstrates clear dissatisfaction with the action taken by the food group.

The store is regularly described by industry experts as the group's most profitable and by the media as the country's most successful pick-up supermarket for singles.

As well as Princess Diana, Princes William and Harry and a host of ladies- in-waiting, staff say celebrity shoppers include Joanna Lumley, Elton John, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, Willie Rushton, Nicholas Witchell and Moira Stuart. While appearing at nearby Earls Court, Whitney Houston and Madonna had staff buy provisions from the store.

Management has clearly taken the warnings to heart. Memos have appeared on a first-floor staff noticeboard advising employees of the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. A small wallchart carries pictures of rats, mice, cockroaches, silverfish, flies, wasps and ants, and advises workers on what to do if they see them.

An internal memo to management from Jock Cross, the deputy store manager, a copy of which has been obtained by the Independent, warns: "We have to give this situation major priority as we are under threat of prosecution for [being] a dirty store. If we are prosecuted, the business implications and management implications are of an extremely serious nature."

Staff at the store said they regularly saw mice in storage areas and in the staff canteen on the first floor. One employee said she often saw cockroaches. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea confirmed there was a problem at the store and said health officials visited yesterday to ensure Sainsbury's was solving it.

"They have given us a report outlining what action they are taking to eradicate the problem," a spokeswoman said. "We will consider taking action under the 1990 Food Safety Act if we feel that the work is not being carried out diligently."

Sainsbury's said last night it had "implemented a full and intensive control programme" and was working closely with the local authority to eradicate the problem. A spokeswoman said the company felt the situation was "under control".