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Signature Living fined £34,000 over 'infestation' of mice at Liverpool hotel

19 May 2020 by
Signature Living fined £34,000 over 'infestation' of mice at Liverpool hotel

Signature Living has been told to pay more than £60,000 in fines and court costs after its 30 James Street hotel in Liverpool was found to be littered with mouse droppings "from top to bottom".

A judge said there had been "systematic failures" as it sentenced the company today, following the entering of guilty pleas in relation four food hygiene violations at Liverpool Crown Court in December.

The court had seen pictures showing dead mice and droppings in locations including pots and pans, which were taken in a surprise inspection after a Signature Living employee, who had been dismissed, tipped off Liverpool City Council.

David Birrell, prosecuting, said 30 James Street styled itself "as a luxury Titanic-themed hotel", which was outwardly "smart and plush", however, "those appearances were deceiving" and "the position behind the scenes was very different" on 7 March 2018.

He said: "When environmental health officers from the council visited, the kitchens were filthy and infested with mice. The officers found dead mice and mouse droppings.

"The droppings were found throughout the hotel, from top to bottom. Droppings were found close to areas where food was being prepared, causing a risk of contamination.

"Conditions were so grave that the kitchens were shut down because they presented an 'imminent risk to health'."

30 James Street
30 James Street

In the Carpathia Kitchen on the building's eighth floor, where chefs were preparing food, photos showed mouse droppings, hair and food debris on the floor and work surfaces.

An inspector also discovered dirty pots and pans with "numerous mouse droppings inside the pans" and a build-up of grease on a cooker.

The ground floor Grand Hall Kitchen, used for mass catered events, was "similarly filthy", with "dead mice lying in a pool of built-up grease and food debris".

The basement storage area also revealed "very unclean" surfaces, while food was stored in open bags where mice were active, and elsewhere droppings were inside a fridge and on a shelf next to crockery.

Birrall said: "Food was being stored, handled and prepared in areas where mice were active, thereby giving rise to a risk of contamination and of harm to customers."

The court heard that subsequent investigations revealed the hotel had not followed the recommendations of pest control reports issued as far back as January 2016.

Mr Birrell said this showed "rodents had been active in the hotel more or less continuously" for two years and the company had also failed to fill in gaps, holes and spaces, where rodents got in.

The following day, 30 James Street's managing director Sue Wright told inspectors the mice infestation was caused by the "budget" hotel next door, Day's Inn.

However, inspectors found no evidence the problems came from Day's Inn, which had just received the highest possible food hygiene rating.

30 James Street was hit with a zero-star rating, but after "extensive remedial work", its kitchens were allowed to reopen on 13 March.

30 James Street
30 James Street

Council officers returned on 18 September 2018, when "conditions had improved, but not by much", as they found further evidence of mice and inadequate pest control procedures.

Mr Birrell said 30 James Street also "sought to blame" its head chef – "a cynical attempt to avoid liability, which did not stand up to scrutiny."

Nigel Lawrence, mitigating, said the hotel, which is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, is "still alive" but may not survive, and asked for a "fairly lengthy period of time" to pay any fines and costs.

He said: "Any financial penalty will have a significant impact on a company that's literally on its knees and may or may not survive."

Judge Garrett Byrne said he agreed there had been "systemic" failures at the 63-bedroom, Grade II-listed Building.

He added: "If customers eating at the hotel in early 2018 saw the photographs that the court has seen, they would have been rightly concerned, to say the least.

"This was a serious lapse on the part of management."

Judge Byrne accepted management eventually tried to solve the problems and by last December, the hygiene level was deemed to be "adequate" by the council.

He said 30 James Street showed a turnover of around £5m in 2017 and 2018, with a pre-tax profit in the two years respectively of £622,047 and £830,777, with assets over current liabilities of £1,511,468 and £1,004,234.

Judge Byrne said he would have fined the company £68,000 in December, but the business was now in "very different and exceptional circumstances".

Signature Living is now in administration and 30 James Street in receivership, and it would be "wrong to impose a fine that could contribute to the demise of the hotel", if there was any prospect it may reopen.

Judge Byrne reduced the fines by half and ordered the hotel to pay £34,000, plus £26,877 towards the costs of the council's investigation.

Reporting by Neil Docking and Nick Tyrrell

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