Lanark cheesemaker says ongoing fight is nothing other than ‘malicious’ behaviour on the part of South Lanarkshire Council and Food Standards Scotland.

The maturing room at Errington's containing the  impounded cheese
The maturing room at Errington's containing the impounded cheese

A Lanark cheesemaker has said that a South Lanarkshire Council decision to refuse to release cheese which is safe for human consumption is nothing other than malicious, and is being directed by the government agency, Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

Selina Cairns, the company’s owner told the Gazette she was ‘frustrated beyond belief’ at the entrenched position of both agencies, despite the fact that they are ignoring a judgement handed down by a sheriff in July.

The cheesemaker was previously cleared of allegedly causing the death of a three-year-old from an outbreak of E-coli food poisoning; as long ago as 2016 the Crown Office stated that no legal proceedings against the firm would be taken.

Errington Cheese has been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with both South Lanarkshire Council and Food Standards Scotland over an accusation they failed to comply with food hygiene rules.

Sheriff Robert Weir QC who was hearing the civil case remarked at the time that the allegations were “not well founded”.

Now Selina has been forced to lay off her last two members of staff due to the council’s refusal to release her cheese for sale, despite publication of the judgement regarding the entire stock of 2016 and a small amount of 2015 Corra Linn.

Selina said: “South Lanarkshire Council are refusing to release the cheese for sale so I am afraid I won’t have any available to sell until the 2018 cheese becomes ready to sell around November/December this year.

“With a heavy heart I have had to lay off my two remaining staff for which I feel really terrible as they have stood by me over the past couple of years.

“My sales of cheese are less than 25 per cent of what they were two years ago and because the sales are going to be reduced again, I simply cannot afford to pay their wages.”

A date has been set for the matter to return to court at Hamilton on September 4 where the Sheriff will issue a formal order containing his judgement which is instrumental in instructing all parties mentioned to adhere to its terms.

The company’s website features a statement on the position which reads: “We wrote to Food Standards Scotland asking them to remove all their allegations of deficiencies in our systems, risk management, FAFA etc published on their website since the judgment has found that our systems are not deficient, they have refused.”

Selina also commented: “I have no idea why the FSS just won’t accept the sheriff’s ruling and move on. You’d think they’d have been pleased to learn from him that our systems were safe and that we were complying with the food safety legislation and making qood quality safe cheese. It seems such a waste of money, particularly when South Lanarkshire Council send down two environmental health officers every time we want to turn the seized cheeses which are being stored in our maturing room. We’re not permitted to enter without their permission or outwith their presence.”

Humphrey Errington, founder of the company and now retired said: “We would like to express our profound gratitude to all our experts and those who have so generously supported us.

“I really hope that no other small business will have to go though such a harrowing and stressful process.”

Food Standards Scotland said: “We are carefully considering the implications of the judgment for food safety in Scotland whilst awaiting the Sheriff’s final orders.

A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council commented: “Although the Sheriff has released his judgement, the interlocutor, which is the formal order containing his decision, has not been issued. The situation regarding the seized cheeses remains the same until the court process is fully concluded.”