THE North-East’s largest independent dairy may have been under filling milk bottles on a “huge scale”, a court heard today.

Lanchester Dairies, which serves around 150 dairy farms and sells to 400 to 500 retailers, has been fined £3,500 after admitting five offences under weights and measures regulations.

Kenneth Robinson, the dairy’s lawyer, told magistrates the breaches were very marginal and not deliberate, blaming a new bottling system installed shortly before Durham Trading Standards officers arrived at the dairy to conduct unannounced tests last October.

But Catherine Hazell, prosecuting for Durham County Council, said it was possible thousands of packages had left the dairy under filled and, as the firm had used the same checking method since 2003, there could have been “short measure on a huge scale”, generating “significant savings” for the company.

David Smith, chair of the bench at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court, said it was a serious offence and imposed a fine of £3,500, as well as ordering the dairy to pay case costs of £1,660 and a victim surcharge of £350, bringing the total bill to £5,510.

Durham Trading Standards swooped following a complaint from colleagues in Northumberland, arriving at the County Durham dairy on Thursday, October 22 and testing a random sample of 125 milk bottles from a 4,800-package production run.

One- and two-litre bottles of semi-skimmed milk were tested and found to be below the “tolerable negative error”, Ms Hazell said.