CRIMINAL proceedings have been dropped against butchers accused of supplying meat products said to be contaminated with salmonella, suspected of links with a food poisoning outbreak.

Nineteen people in east Durham and neighbouring Hartlepool were found to have suffered salmonella infection, with three further suspected cases reported, amid an inquiry by Public Health England into the suspected outbreak in February last year.

Two deaths which are subject to separate on-going inquest proceedings, one of a 66-year-old Shotton Colliery man being overseen by the Durham Coroner, and another in the Teesside Coroner’s area, are believed to feature salmonella infections among their potential causes.

Both coroners’ inquest hearings are yet to be concluded, as they awaited the outcome of criminal proceedings brought by Durham County Council’s consumer protection department.

Charges contrary to Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations were brought by the council against Chapman and Sons, a family-run butchers and bakery shop, in Blackhall, as a company, and its directors, John Paul and Anthony Bertram Chapman, who were accused of placing on the market unsafe food, namely cooked pork contaminated with salmonella.

But at Durham Crown Court yesterday, barrister Austin Welch, for the company, and both Chapman brothers, in person, denied the charges.

Sam Faulks, for the council, then told the court that the proceedings were subject to frequent reviews, and, following the most recent, it was decided to offer no evidence in the case, as it was considered the prospect of successful conviction was not fulfilled.

He told the court there would be “real difficulties” with attribution which could leave the case liable to abuse of process claims by the defence, relating to independent checks of what was left of the suspected infected product.

Mr Faulks added it was now felt to be “proportionate and reasonable” not to pursue the case.

Judge Jonathan Carroll, therefore, returned not guilty verdicts on the counts relating to both the company and the directors, who were told they were free to leave the court.