Tesco far from squeaky clean after rodent trial

SUFFOLK: Britain’s biggest supermarket has finally been brought to book over its rodent infestation after months of legal wrangling.

Tesco, which last year announced record-breaking profts of �3bn, was today left red-faced after losing a “huge battle” to a rural authority.

Health chiefs have now spoken out to criticise supermarket managers for their delayed response to the problem, which led to a nine-month trial.

Tesco has been ordered to pay �74,000 in fines and court costs for failing to comply with hygiene standards at one of its Suffolk stores.

The company’s legal team had denied cleanliness and pest control charges dating back to 2007 at the Martlesham Heath branch in Anson Road.

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.

Environmental health officer Catherine Hickling said the verdict proved the council had made the correct decision to bring a prosecution.

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“Tesco put up a huge battle and we had to respond to that. It’s no small thing to take on a giant retailer.”

The council’s food safety team found food debris and mouse droppings at the Tesco Extra store in April 2007 following a complaint from a shopper who said they had seen a rodent.

The company was convicted on all eight cleanliness charges brought by Suffolk Coastal, fined �17,000 and ordered to pay a further �57,000 in costs.

District Judge David Cooper praised the efforts of environmental health officers during the investigation, saying: “This was a big job and one that required quite a bit of courage to embark upon.”

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, adding: “Perfection is rarely achieved in reality.”

But Suffolk Coastal health bosses said after the hearing that basic procedures were ignored and inadequate measures taken to put right the problem.

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.”

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.”