A town-centre branch of a national chain store has been hit with financial penalties amounting to almost £1.2m for food hygiene and health and safety offences after a Croydon Crown Court judge said: “The smell of rodents’ urine was discernible upon immediate approach to the food section of the store.”
At an earlier hearing, Poundworld, in North End, had admitted five food safety offences and two breaches of health and safety at work regulations.
On Friday (9 March), Her Honour Judge Smaller fined the company £660,000 for the food safety offences, and £500,000 for one of the health and safety at work offences – with no separate penalty for the second. She also awarded costs of £30,409.60 and a victim surcharge of £120. The total figure amounted to £1,190,529.60.
Charges were brought against Poundworld after Croydon Council food safety officers received a complaint from a member of the public who reported that she had seen evidence of a rodent infestation on the shopfloor of the store.
Evidence of rodent infestation was found on the shop floor
On visiting the store, in February 2016, the officers discovered an out-of-control infestation. The shop was dirty and littered with mouse droppings; food on display was gnawed and rodent urine and faeces were found over packaging and products. Some products’ gnawed packaging had been “repaired” with adhesive tape and returned to the shop shelves for sale.
Officers consulted with the store management who agreed to immediately cease the sale of food.
The basement and storage areas were also found to be contaminated with mouse droppings, while some areas were in darkness with very poor visibility. The goods lift was found to be out of commission, leaving staff members having to manually carry goods up to the shopfloor. No risk assessment had been carried out for this activity.
Product packaging was found to have been gnawed
Additionally, there was no hot water, inadequate heating and poor housekeeping, which resulted in stock being left in a haphazard and dangerous manner.
The court heard that Poundworld, in May 2015, had been acquired by Poundworld Bidco Ltd on behalf of funds controlled by TPG Capital, a global private equity investment firm with assets worth more than $80bn.
Court-requested details of TPG were “respectfully declined” by the defendant’s counsel on the basis that, in his representation, Poundworld, TPG and other companies are not linked organisations. Judge Smaller said: “In the absence of being given sufficient reliable information, I am entitled to draw reasonable inferences that Poundworld can pay any fine.”
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“I am pleased to see that by imposing such a substantial level of fines and costs, the courts take seriously the matter of food retailers’ responsibility to ensure they adhere to legal requirements designed to protect the health and safety of their customers and staff.
“The degree to which this company failed to uphold cleanliness and safety standards in its premier town-centre store beggars belief, and the financial penalty imposed is – to most people’s minds, I’m sure – entirely justified.”