Tesco 'failed to stop rodent problem'

SUPERMARKET giant Tesco has been criticised for failing to deal with a rodent infestation that led to a lengthy trial and more than �70,000 in fines and court costs.

Tom Potter

SUPERMARKET giant Tesco has been criticised for failing to deal with a rodent infestation that led to a lengthy trial and more than �70,000 in fines and court costs.

The retailer was prosecuted after a shopper spotted a rodent at its store at Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich, in April 2007 and investigating council officers found mouse droppings and food debris on the floor.

Tesco's legal team had denied cleanliness and pest control charges relating to the Tesco Extra store in Anson Road.

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But more than 700 hours of investigation work by environmental health officers led to a guilty verdict and a financial penalty at South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court yesterday.

Tesco was convicted on all eight hygiene and cleanliness-related charges brought by Suffolk Coastal District Council, fined �17,000 and ordered to pay a further �57,000 in costs.

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District Judge David Cooper praised the efforts of environmental health officers during the investigation and court case, which had been adjourned a number of times. “This was a big job and one that required quite a bit of courage to embark upon,” he said.

In summing up, he added: “I also applaud Tesco for not pointing fingers at individuals.

“These events happened a long time ago and were no more than a sad falling below otherwise high standards.”

Charles Arrand, representing Tesco, said the store had done its best to comply with regulations and had displayed no evidence of recklessness throughout the trial. “Perfection is rarely achieved in reality,” he said.

But, after the hearing, Suffolk Coastal health bosses said measures were not taken to deal with the problem quickly enough.

A spokeswoman for the council said because of poor cleaning and inadequate procedures, parts of the store had become dirty and mice were active.

Community health cabinet member Sherrie Green said: “It is bad enough not to have had in place the basic safeguards that would have prevented rodents gaining access to the store, but I am amazed at the lack of serious action then taken to put an end to the problem.”

Environmental health officer Catherine Hickling said the verdict proved the council had made the correct decision to bring a prosecution. “Tesco put up a huge battle and we had to respond to that. It's no small thing to take on a giant retailer,” she said.

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Tesco takes hygiene standards extremely seriously. Our customers expect clean and safe stores and we have thousands of people employed at Tesco to deliver this.”

SUFFOLK Coastal responded to a complaint at the end of April 2007 from a member of the public that they had seen a live rodent on the shop floor at Tesco Extra.

Pest control records showed there had been mice activity since the previous month and on April 30 the council's food safety team investigation found food debris on the shop floor and behind the counter of the delicatessen, as well as droppings in the hot deli area and in the warehouse.

Further investigation traced the problem back to the waste compactor which was not pest-proofed where mice were nesting and feeding on the waste.

The case first went to court in May 2008. Tesco denied eight charges including having inadequate environmental health procedures and failing to 'pest proof' the building.

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