Cwmbran meat firm fined £15k for label breach

Free Press Series: MOVING ON: Sean Willis MD of Douglas Willis Ltd MOVING ON: Sean Willis MD of Douglas Willis Ltd

A CWMBRAN meat processing company has been fined £15,000 after admitting that a number of its frozen products were past their use-by date.

Douglas Willis Ltd, based on Grange Road Industrial Estate in Cwmbran, initially denied 23 charges related to the labelling of frozen meat, but admitted 12 charges at Caerphilly Magistrates Court today.

The company, which employs 41 people, had a turnover of £7.1 million last year.

In December 2010, inspectors from Torfaen council’s trading standards team visited the company's Cwmbran meat processing plant, after a customer of Douglas Willis Ltd said that spicy meatballs they'd bought were past their use-by date.

Inspectors found a number of packages of frozen meat labelled with use-by dates which had passed, and the case went to court in June 2011, where it was dismissed.

The council appealed and the case went on to the Supreme Court, who ruled it should return to the lower courts as it was sufficient for the prosecution to prove the company intended to sell meat that had passed its use-by date.

Today the company admitted 12 charges of selling food after the use-by date shown - including beef calves, duck legs, liver, Polish sausage, beef burgers, wild Scottish venison, chicken and duck breast fillet.

The prosecution offered no evidence on the remaining 11 charges.

Iain McDonald, prosecuting, told the court that a "best before" date is a quality indicator, whereas a "use-by" date is for highly perishable foods only. Businesses can freeze products, but must apply to the original producer to extend the product's use-by date.

Regulations are due to soon change so businesses must display the date on which the product was frozen, but this was not in place at the time.

"It was their responsibility to maintain the integrity of the labelling chain," said Mr McDonald.

He said no assessment was carried out by trading standards as to whether the products were unfit for human consumption.

"It's the risk that products harmful to human consumption would get into the food chain," he said.

Graham Walters, mitigating, said: "These are labelling offences. There's no evidence to show that the products were unsafe. The Supreme Court had to clarify the law in this area. By the [guilty] pleas the defence accept that they would not reasonably expect this court to conclude in their favour."

Regarding the meatballs that sparked the original investigation, he said the company sought permission to change the label but did not seek it from the original producer, as they should have done.

"No products selected for onward sale is the subject of a charge," he said, adding that the company has very detailed risk assessment and documentation processes when stock comes in and regularly sends off samples for microbiological testing. Checks on freezers have been tightened up and all labels are now kept on file, he said.

District Judge Richard Williams said the offences were of omission, so culpability was "much less".

He fined the company £1,500 per offence but granted a reduction of £250 per offence, amounting to a £15,000 fine in total. The company must pay a £15 victim surcharge and agreed to pay £12,000 prosecution costs.

Speaking after sentencing, head of Torfaen trading standards Steve Whitehouse said: "The company has taken on board what we have said to them and the advice we've given. The whole Food Safety Act is to do with mitigating any potential risk to the consumer. Hopefully in the future their products meet the standards we all try to achieve."

Sean Willis, managing director of Douglas Willis Ltd and grandson of the original founder, said he was glad the case was over.

"I don't want [the case] to go on any longer," he said. "We hold our hands up to a certain extent. I've had a lot of emails and good wishes before today from customers saying 'we will support you, we will stand by you' after explaining what it was. Let's draw a line under it and move on."

Comments (11)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

4:53pm Thu 15 May 14

Magor says...

They should have a look at the rubbish served from takeaways.
They should have a look at the rubbish served from takeaways. Magor
  • Score: 11

6:24pm Thu 15 May 14

VoiceOfDaPort says...

Sean's aged a fair bit since I worked for them 9 years ago, he's a nice guy.
Sean's aged a fair bit since I worked for them 9 years ago, he's a nice guy. VoiceOfDaPort
  • Score: 2

6:39pm Thu 15 May 14

bravoscar says...

They should look at the rubbish sold by supermarkets too or is picking on the big suppliers a problem?
How much did Tesco get fined for horse meat sold to humans that wasn't labeled correctly either they got fined sweet FA.
Pick on the little firms and close them down?
15k fine? how much of the tax payers money went into taking them to court more than 15k I bet....
Well done?
They should look at the rubbish sold by supermarkets too or is picking on the big suppliers a problem? How much did Tesco get fined for horse meat sold to humans that wasn't labeled correctly either they got fined sweet FA. Pick on the little firms and close them down? 15k fine? how much of the tax payers money went into taking them to court more than 15k I bet.... Well done? bravoscar
  • Score: 11

6:46pm Thu 15 May 14

Magor says...

This case has cost the taxpayer thousands,just so council jobsworths can save face.They had no right to appeal using taxpayers money.
This case has cost the taxpayer thousands,just so council jobsworths can save face.They had no right to appeal using taxpayers money. Magor
  • Score: -1

8:18pm Thu 15 May 14

AndyCl says...

Technical compliance issue and red tape written all over it !!!
Have shopped from DW for many years now and won't buy meat products from supermarkets, have seen their QC and cold room control at first hand !!
Use your local quality butchers or lose them, and then we'll all be at the mercy of mediocre tasteless supermarket product.
See you Saturday DW
Technical compliance issue and red tape written all over it !!! Have shopped from DW for many years now and won't buy meat products from supermarkets, have seen their QC and cold room control at first hand !! Use your local quality butchers or lose them, and then we'll all be at the mercy of mediocre tasteless supermarket product. See you Saturday DW AndyCl
  • Score: 13

9:49pm Thu 15 May 14

bbCwmbran says...

Yes, I agree with the quality of Douglas Willis products. I love their meat! Just how pathetic are Torfaen Council! Money well spent by them on legal costs!! They would be better suited to spending on education and healthcare. Torfaen Council foot stamping at their very best.
Yes, I agree with the quality of Douglas Willis products. I love their meat! Just how pathetic are Torfaen Council! Money well spent by them on legal costs!! They would be better suited to spending on education and healthcare. Torfaen Council foot stamping at their very best. bbCwmbran
  • Score: 6

10:21pm Thu 15 May 14

Whyme? says...

I've been going to DW for years and have sampled everything they have to offer. It is by far the best food retailer in Newport/Torfaen. The local Council asked for £80,000 costs in the Supreme Court. There Lordships told them where to go. I guess they thought this was an appeal that was not worth the money, notwithstanding legally correct.
I've been going to DW for years and have sampled everything they have to offer. It is by far the best food retailer in Newport/Torfaen. The local Council asked for £80,000 costs in the Supreme Court. There Lordships told them where to go. I guess they thought this was an appeal that was not worth the money, notwithstanding legally correct. Whyme?
  • Score: 6

10:25pm Thu 15 May 14

XKeysWatt says...

I agree that the money spent fighting this case could have been better spent elsewhere but no-one has the right to sell any food product that isn't potentially fit to eat.

I too have used this butcher and can agree that their meat is 1st class but if you run a business you have to comply with all the rules and proper food labelling is one of those rules.
I agree that the money spent fighting this case could have been better spent elsewhere but no-one has the right to sell any food product that isn't potentially fit to eat. I too have used this butcher and can agree that their meat is 1st class but if you run a business you have to comply with all the rules and proper food labelling is one of those rules. XKeysWatt
  • Score: 19

10:26pm Thu 15 May 14

pbhj says...

I can't disagree enough with those that say it was wrong of the council to push the issue. Businesses who knowingly sell food past the use-by date should be bought to book. I don't care if that's a multinational or a local supplier.

Yes, Tesco should have been fined their operating profits for the entire year IMO for their blatant disregard for proper care of the human food supply. But that doesn't matter here.

Torfaen were right to spend the money on the prosecution, and right to appeal, as shown by the verdict. The costs of £12k were rightly paid by those who accepted their guilt in the matter.

The only complaint I have here is the failure of the judge to understand that choosing to sell goods that are past their use-by date is an act of commission and not omission.

Again I'd have fines placed for _any_ company flouting the laws that seek to protect food for human consumption as being underpinned at the minimum 1 years profits with the current fines acting only in cases where the company has made a loss.

Companies selling food should not be allowed to profit from that sale in any period in which they knowingly act in contravention of proper procedures to ensure public health, eg knowingly selling goods past their use-by date.
I can't disagree enough with those that say it was wrong of the council to push the issue. Businesses who knowingly sell food past the use-by date should be bought to book. I don't care if that's a multinational or a local supplier. Yes, Tesco should have been fined their operating profits for the entire year IMO for their blatant disregard for proper care of the human food supply. But that doesn't matter here. Torfaen were right to spend the money on the prosecution, and right to appeal, as shown by the verdict. The costs of £12k were rightly paid by those who accepted their guilt in the matter. The only complaint I have here is the failure of the judge to understand that choosing to sell goods that are past their use-by date is an act of commission and not omission. Again I'd have fines placed for _any_ company flouting the laws that seek to protect food for human consumption as being underpinned at the minimum 1 years profits with the current fines acting only in cases where the company has made a loss. Companies selling food should not be allowed to profit from that sale in any period in which they knowingly act in contravention of proper procedures to ensure public health, eg knowingly selling goods past their use-by date. pbhj
  • Score: 21

12:22pm Fri 16 May 14

exMark says...

Doug Willis, home of the best Pork Stuffing and Apple sauce baguettes south of the North Pole.
Doug Willis, home of the best Pork Stuffing and Apple sauce baguettes south of the North Pole. exMark
  • Score: 3

1:57pm Fri 16 May 14

-trigg- says...

As the article states, the company also agreed to "pay £12,000 prosecution costs." so it seems a little strange to accuse the council of wasting taxpayers' money in bringing this case.

It may seem to be based on a technicality, but they were selling meat products well outside the stated "use by" date without using the proper process for doing so.

Although there is no suggestion that the meat in this case was unfit for human consumption, the process is in place for the protection of consumers and where it is not followed, there is the potential for mistakes to happen which could lead to such products being sold.
As the article states, the company also agreed to "pay £12,000 prosecution costs." so it seems a little strange to accuse the council of wasting taxpayers' money in bringing this case. It may seem to be based on a technicality, but they were selling meat products well outside the stated "use by" date without using the proper process for doing so. Although there is no suggestion that the meat in this case was unfit for human consumption, the process is in place for the protection of consumers and where it is not followed, there is the potential for mistakes to happen which could lead to such products being sold. -trigg-
  • Score: 0

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree