Farmer Anthony Clarkson is no stranger to the courts.
He has already been in trouble twice with the authorities and in 2006 had to pay a £2,100 fine for selling poor quality eggs as “class A” and extending best before dates.
He also hit the headlines in 1999 when he was rescued from a sinking silo by 30 people at his farm in Back Lane, Whittingham, near Preston.
Now, he has been jailed for two and a half years for marketing barn eggs as free range when they were not.
But his sentence has triggered a debate after sex offender Kerdine Ahmedi, 46, was sentenced to less time in prison despite forced himself on a woman in her own bed at her Preston home. The sex offender had a previous conviction and breached a sexual offences prevention order five times.
In recent days a number of other violent criminals and sex offenders have all been handed more lenient sentences by Preston Crown Court.
It’s not just an overhaul of sentencing guidelines that is needed - often there are powers there to impose a heavier sentence which people do not use. It’s a change in attitude.Solicitor Rachel Horman
Solicitor Rachel Horman, a board director at Safenet which runs women’s refuges across Lancashire, said: “Sadly this happens quite a lot. I have seen domestic violence cases where in order to get that kind of sentence, the perpetrator could have attempted murder.
“I deal with serious cases of violence against women where the defendant doesn’t get a penalty anywhere near this.
“It seems that financial crimes or fraud are treated more seriously than violent crimes against women. This kind of situation sends out the wrong message to perpetrators and victims of violence.
“It’s not just an overhaul of sentencing guidelines that is needed - often there are powers there to impose a heavier sentence which people do not use. It’s a change in attitude.”
Preston Crown Court heard Clarkson purported free range eggs had been produced at his farm when they were in fact barn eggs he bought in from another of his firms.
Clarkson had more than 14,000 free range hens housed in two sheds at the farm and at full production he could produce about 12,000 free range eggs a day, but at the time of the visits he was only producing around half.
Food safety laws mean eggs have to be stamped with a unique producer code indicating whether the eggs are free range, barn produced or cage produced, allowing the eggs to be traced back to where they were laid.
The farmer, who runs a business supplying farmers, the wholesale market, shops, and grading and packing eggs, may also have to shell out as he faces proceedings in November under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Widower Mr Clarkson, who committed the fraud over nine months, could have faced up to five years in prison under legal guidelines.
At his sentence hearing, his defence barrister Michael Maher said he appreciated it was a food fraud but remarked: “It’s not horse meat masquerading as fillet steak.”
His firm, F Clarkson and Son, did not wish to comment.
A spokesman for Animal Plant Health Authority (APHA) defended the sentence saying it sends out a ‘tough warning to food fraudsters.’
He added said: “Consumers rely on honest egg marketing to ensure that the eggs they buy are fresh and safe to eat, and that production methods are correctly described.
“This case should serve as a warning and reminder that APHA enforces egg marketing legislation robustly and that deliberate transgressions result in tough sanctions for those not willing to comply.”
The Sentencing Council said it would not comment on individual sentences.
However its website explains judges had to have regard to the five purposes of sentencing, guidelines that set out the process they should follow and factors they should consider, such as seriousness, harm to the victim, the offender’s level of blame, their criminal record, their personal circumstances and whether they have pleaded guilty.