Jail and £3 mln fine for egg conman

A company boss in the UK has been jailed for his part in a scam which saw supermarkets and customers buy battery eggs they believed were free-range or organic, reports Sky News.

More than 100 mln falsely labelled eggs were sold to stores across the country in an 18-month fraud, Worcester Crown Court heard.

Keith Owen, who admitted 3 charges under the Theft Act in relation to the fraud, was jailed for 3 years and ordered to repay £3 mln. Jailing Owen, Judge Toby Hooper QC said the defendant had abused the "well-intentioned" trust of the public.

Owen of Worcestershire pleaded guilty earlier this month to 3 charges of providing false information for accounting purposes to firms in the egg supply sector between June 2004 and May 2006.

The judge also ordered Owen to pay £250,000, and gave him 12 months to repay the £3 mln confiscation order - or face a further 6.5 years in prison.

Judge Hooper heard Owen was a middleman who sold battery and "industrial" eggs imported from France and Ireland to other suppliers, who were variously told that they were British, free-range, organic or even that they met the RSPCA's Freedom Food welfare standards.

Passing sentence, the judge said Owen's business, Heart of England Eggs Unlimited, had made very substantial profits at the expense of "real-life victims" who mistakenly believed they were buying "premium" eggs.

The food fraud case was the largest ever brought by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, report state.

Commenting on the custodial sentence, Richard Jones of Defra said: "I think it sends a strong message to anyone in the industry.

Source: Sky News

Natalie Berkhout

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