Thousands of chickens being slaughtered in ‘appalling conditions’ every month at Bovingdon farm

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MORE than 130,000 chickens a year were being killed on a farm in “appalling conditions” in Bovingdon, a court heard.

Farmer Robert Skerry, 54, operated an illegal slaughterhouse at Game Farm off Shantock Lane where his customers slaughtered the birds without wearing protective clothing, carcasses were left in the open air and bloody water was discharged into a stream.

Some of those who bought his birds came from different parts of the country and killed them in his shed according to religious custom.

When questioned by an environmental health officer one man, who said he ran a kebab van, said he was not slaughtering the birds for his business but for his family’s personal consumption.

Opening the case at St Albans crown court on Tuesday Richard Heller, prosecuting, said: “This is one of the most serious cases of operating an unlawful slaughter house.”

He said an investigation was launched after PC Richard Ballinger called at Game Farm in Maple Road on an unrelated matter on May 4 2010.

He was concerned when he saw the chicken slaughter house and some Asian men, not wearing protective clothing or hairnets, killing chickens.

There was blood on the floor and between 50 and 100 dead chickens piled up in the open air.

Bloody water from a pipe was being discharged into a stream and there were hundreds of rotting feathers and lumps of meat.

PC Ballinger spoke to Dacorum Borough Council’s environmental health officers and on May 12 environmental health officer Joanne Lee-Dadd visited the farm and found “appalling conditions of hygiene.”

Mr Heller went on: “There were live crates of chickens in the slaughter shed. Live animals should not witness the slaughter of others. In the shed there was dirt and mould on the ceiling and dirt on the wall.

“There was no hot water basin and no wash basin for hands or equipment. There were two open drains and a crack in the window which would allow flying insects in.

“A portable toilet was filthy and a rat hole was discovered between the toilet and the shed.”

Environmental health officers returned to the farm on May 24 and spoke to the man who ran a kebab van, who said he was slaughtering chickens for his own personal use for his family to eat.

Mr Heller said: “Thousands and thousands of chickens were being processed and it is highly unlikely that none of them were being marketed for general consumption.

“In excess of 10,000 were being slaughtered a month. The scale of the operation was significant.”

On May 26 the Environmental Health Officers put a notice in place ordering the slaughtering to stop.

When questioned the farmer said he was paying 42p for each bird but refused to say how much he was receiving. He said on a bad day he would have three or four customers, but on a good day he could have a hundred.

Mr Skerry pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to comply with legislation in a prosecution brought by Dacorum council before Watford magistrates court on 18 July last year. The case was sent to St Albans crown court for sentence.

Defence barrister Jeremy Barton asked for credit for Mr Skerry’s guilty plea at the magistrates’ court. He said he had been born on the farm, had lived there all his life and lived a ‘frugal existence’ with his 90-year-old widowed mother.

He said he had always sold live chickens, but in recent years there was a market for the slaughter of chickens on the land which was driven by the Asian community.

“Customers would slaughter chickens based on religious believes and they were happy,” said Mr Barton.

The farmer had been prosecuted in 2004 for allowing chickens slaughtered on his premises to be sold for commercial purposes, but was not aware that the law had been tightened to prevent people supplying meat from unregistered slaughter houses for private use.

Mr Barton went on: “He had not kept up with the law when it changed. His customers knew what they were buying. He was not advertising his business. People came from Coventry, Birmingham. There is no evidence that anyone suffered any illness.”

At the time he said he was making a profit of between £20,000 and £25,00 a year from the chicken business and was paying himself between £100 to £150 a week.

With the closing of the slaughter business he said the farmer had suffered financially and was in poor health, having suffered a heart attack.

Judge Stephen Warner asked how much the farm was worth. Mr Skerry replied: “About a million at today’s prices. I inherited it from my father.”

Sentencing has been adjourned until June 29.