Hotelier who let rabbit sleep in kitchen to pay �40k

A HOTEL owner who allowed a chef and his pet rabbit to sleep in the building's filthy kitchen was fined �20,000 yesterday.

A HOTEL owner who allowed a chef and his pet rabbit to sleep in the building's filthy kitchen was fined �20,000 yesterday.

Athanasia Constantine, of the Fairholme Hotel in Great Yarmouth, was also ordered to pay �20,000 in costs after she was found guilty of breaching 17 food and hygiene regulations.

The �40,000 in fines and costs is the largest penalty from a routine Yarmouth Borough Council food hygiene inspection.

In January 2007, inspectors found the hotel's chef, Luis Bento, had been sleeping in the kitchen following a domestic argument. A white rabbit was also there. They also discovered the kitchen was in a squalid state with dirty equipment and rabbit droppings and urine on the floor.

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Constantine, 40, who described herself as a countess, denied all the charges, claiming she had sub-let the Princes Road hotel to Costa Pantazis and so was not responsible for running the kitchen.

Yesterday at Norwich Magistrates' Court, district judge Philip Browning found her guilty on all counts. Summing up, the judge criticised Constantine for not providing any evidence during the trial on why she called herself a countess.

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He said: “She refuses to explain or to justify the use of that title. It may be she has affected the title to create some authority, self-esteem or credibility.”

The judge also said there was no evidence to show Mr Pantazis was the legal landlord at the time of the inspection and therefore Constantine was liable for the filthy state of the kitchen as the food business operator licence holder.

He said: “I found the defendant an evasive and inconsistent witness. I accept that you did not personally get the kitchen into that filthy state but it was quite clear you carry the ultimate responsibility for the kitchen.”

The court heard that Constantine, who is of Greek Cypriot origin, owned five other properties in Yarmouth and used to run a cosmetic firm. Because of illness and the recession, her business portfolio only generated about �180 a month in profit.

John Hardy, representing Constantine, of Mill Hill, London, said: “She expressed her shock and still wishes to express her shock and outrage at the very unpleasant circumstances which this area of the kitchen found itself in.”

After the hearing Kate Watts, the environmental health officer who led the inspection, said: “It was the most surprising thing I have even seen. The last thing I would expect to see was a rabbit in the kitchen.

“I am very pleased with the level of fines and costs as it sends out a strong message to all food business operators that they must comply with food hygiene regulations.”

Constantine was given 28 days to pay the fine and costs.

Mr Hardy said she planned to appeal against her sentence.

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