'Wrongly labelled eggs ruined my life' says jailed farmer
A farmer who mis-labelled barn eggs as pricier free range eggs has spoken of how he has to sell his home after a court ordered him to repay half a million pounds.
Anthony Clarkson, 61, has already spent 10 months in jail for the fraud.Now the widower, who has five children, will have to sell his home of 34 years which he had shared with his late wife Rita to pay the courts the Â£505,381 demanded.If he does not pay up, he faces a further five years in jail.The amount is one of the biggest seen in recent years in Lancashire, surpassing seizures from criminals such as drug dealers and charity fraudsters who have appeared before the same court (see panel right).Mr Clarkson, of Meadow Croft, Back Lane, Whittingham, near Preston, says he couldn’t believe it when he was jailed for 30 months over the offences at Wayside Farm in the village.He lost his liberty when he was found guilty of misdescribing the farming method of eggs and marketing barn eggs as free range when they were not.He had already been in trouble twice with the authorities and in 2006 had to pay a Â£2,100 fine for selling poor quality eggs as “class A” and extending best before dates.Demand for free-range eggs rose steeply as a result of high-profile campaigns about battery farming, which was outlawed in 2012, but suspicions about egg fraud nationally came to light in 2004 when allegations began circulating there were more British free range eggs being sold in shops than could ever be laid in UK farms.Mr 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 Defra visits, he was only producing around half. His 30-month sentence last June attracted some criticism after it emerged sex offenders, drug dealers and fraudsters who had targeted pensioners had been given far less time. Today, the controversy continues after the widower revealed he has to sell his home to pay the Proceeds of Crime Act order.He said: “I’m a hard working farmer – I’ve never worked less than 80 hours a week and sometimes work 120. “At the time the egg inspectors visited my farm we were struggling. We had lost my wife to cancer, after she had been poorly for two-and-a-half years and it absolutely knocked us for six.“When Rita was diagnosed with cancer we had two-and-a-half years in and out of hospital and then she passed away.“We were working at the farm and we struggled. Three staff left, and it was a very wet summer. “Then the DEFRA egg inspectors turned up and we were short of paperwork - they made me destroy Â£15,000 of eggs. I believed that day I got the biggest kicking of my life.“But 14 months later I was charged.“We’ve been treated worse than drug dealers. If I’d have been growing cannabis in my barn, I’d have got far less.” He also spoke of his prison ordeal, adding: “Prison was terrible. I should be dead, there’s got to be a better way. “That journey in the prison van from court to Preston Prison you can’t begin to imagine. “I’ve never been as scared. There were eight other blokes on it banging on the sides. “They take all your clothes from you. The cell was twice the size of a bunk and I was sharing with a man who threatened someone with a knife. I’ve never come across an experience quite like it. “The only good thing about HMP Preston is no rats – no self respecting rat would go in there. “I did 15 days in HMP Preston before being transferred to HMP Kirkham. Everyone in Kirkham knew what I was in for – I was a bit of a celebrity because no-one believed you could get jailed for selling free range eggs as barn eggs – some laughed.” The family’s problems did not end when he left prison after a proceeds of crime probe found he had benefitted by Â£505,381 and ordered him to pay the full amount back. It is thought to be one of the biggest amounts seized by the courts in Lancashire.An Animal Plant Health Authority (APHA) spokesman previously said the sentence was a tough warning to food fraudsters, adding: “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.”