Businessman jailed for selling battery hen eggs as free range

Produce imported from France and Ireland repackaged to carry organic and Freedom Food labels

A businessman who passed off tens of millions of battery hen eggs as free range and sold them to supermarkets and stores across the country was yesterday jailed for three years.

Worcester Crown Court heard that Keith Owen sold "industrial" eggs imported from France and Ireland to other suppliers, who were told that they were British, free range, organic or that they met the RSPCA's Freedom Food welfare standards. He was rumbled after lorry drivers visiting his business, Heart of England Eggs Unlimited, realised that they were being forced to wait while eggs they had just delivered were "repackaged" as free range.

Sentencing Owen, who admitted three charges under the Theft Act in relation to the fraud, Judge Toby Hooper QC said that the 44-year-old defendant had abused the "well-intentioned" trust of the public.

Opening the case against Owen, Amanda Pinto QC told the court: "Over a number of years the defendant dishonestly and systematically passed off millions of battery farm eggs as free range. The ultimate customer, a member of the public buying these eggs, would have received inferior quality eggs – sometimes even eggs not fit for sale to the public."

Explaining how the investigation had been aided by the drivers, Ms Pinto said one of the men became suspicious after delivering 26 pallets of caged eggs to Owen's firm. "He waited for four-and-a-half hours while the cage eggs he had delivered went over the grading machine – later his lorry was reloaded," Ms Pinto told the court.

"It was apparent to him that the eggs had merely been 'turned around' and put back on his vehicle on blue pallets, indicating that the eggs were free range."

Investigations conducted by the Egg Marketing Inspectorate, which began in 2004, found that Owen was supplying eggs with false paperwork. Tests on eggs were then conducted under ultra-violet light, allowing investigators to see wire-marks which are only left on the shells of caged hens' eggs.

It is estimated that Owen, who was buying caged eggs at around 35p per dozen and selling them on for up to 90p per dozen, may have wrongly passed off around 100 million eggs.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor