Fear of legal action prevented closure of E.coli butcher

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A SENIOR food safety officer warned his colleagues to be careful in dealing with a butcher's shop because of a previous food scare case that had cost another local authority hundreds of thousands of pounds, it was claimed yesterday.

The E. coli inquiry in Motherwell was told yesterday that the Lanark Blue cheese case was mentioned by Graham Bryceland, head of protective services for North Lanarkshire Council.

He warned colleagues in the outbreak control team fighting the E. coli O157 food poisoning epidemic to be cautious if considering closing John Barr, the Wishaw butcher.

The warning came from Mr Bryceland, said his colleague Jeff Tonner, a principal environmental health officer who gave evidence at the inquiry under cross-examination by Paul Santoni, a solicitor for relatives of one of the 21 people who died in the outbreak.

Mr Santoni suggested to Mr Tonner that South Lanarkshire had found itself in difficulties over the Lanark Blue cheese case and that this had been talked about early in the food officers' investigations. Mr Tonner said that Mr Bryceland urged South Lanarkshire to be careful because Clydesdale Council had been sued after they "got themselves into trouble taking action which was not justifed".

Clydesdale had tried unsuccessfully to destroy one tonne of Lanark Blue, claiming it was unfit for consumption. But the cheesemaker won a court case and the council faced a pounds 300,000 legal bill with pounds 25,000 compensation for the seized cheese.

The inquiry continues.