'Black market milk' battle could lead to Euro hearing

THE MINISTRY of Agriculture, Foods and Fisheries is taking five Staffordshire farmers to court over 'black market milk' dealings.

The case went before Stafford Crown Court on 26 February for pre-trial direction.

The defendants are accused of breaching Commission Regulation (EC) 536-93 which prohibits milk producers selling to unauthorised purchasers.

One defendant is a purchaser while the other four are milk farmers. North Staffordshire law firm O'Donnell & Co is representing one of the farmers involved in the case.

Senior partner at the firm, Paddy O'Donnell, is heading the defence with the addition of European expert Joanne Moss of Falcon Chambers. O'Donnell said he was also considering appointing a silk.

In the pre-trial hearing, Moss said that the legislation had been incorrectly drawn up, therefore no offence had been committed.

O'Donnell said that the defence wished to refer the matter to a European court for consideration and that the case should be referred to a High Court judge.

He said: “The point the defence is taking is that UK legislation – Dairy Produce Quota Regulations 1994 – says it is an offence to comply with certain EC regulations, which includes 536-93.”

The defence is also arguing the alleged breach of regulations, referring to sales of milk, has been misconstrued.

He added: “The main point being taken here is the tenor of that regulation is such that it is not for individual citizens but for member states.

“Therefore, individual citizens cannot be prosecuted as they can't be in breach of the requirement.

“Even if it is decided there has been an offence we will be pleading not guilty.”

O'Donnell added that if the so-called intervention scheme were to collapse the effects “would be imponderable”.

Two other milk producers pleaded guilty in a similar case last year and were fined. They are now appealing.