Pub boss wins £millions payout for being wrongly jailed following false 'vendetta' over mouldy food
A pub landlord wrongly jailed because of a local council's "vendetta" against him that destroyed his life is to be paid millions of pounds in damages.
Geoff Monks, 67, was jailed in 2003 because he couldn't pay a fine after a flimsy prosecution over food safety offences at The Snooty Fox in Lowick, Northants. His conviction was later overturned, but by then Dr Monks had been financially ruined by the catastrophic effect of East Northamptonshire Council's campaign against him.
Monks lost his pubs, his house and suffered a heart attack after he was jailed in a cell next to Soham murderer Ian Huntley.
The former landlord claimed during the High Court action that he was targeted after he offended a local solicitor, Jenny Lawrence, who Monks alleged was connected to the council's chief executive.
The pair's disagreement stemmed from an argument over a bottle of wine in The Snooty Fox in 1998.
Monks was later accused of breaking food safety laws when the authority falsely claimed to have found "mouldy ham" inside the premises in 1999. He was hit with the-then largest fine on record for breaching six food safety offences - £25,500 plus legal costs of £8,300.
He launched a High Court action and claimed for up to £14m in damages after suing for "abuse of process".
East Northamptonshire Council was abolished last year and replaced by North Northamptonshire Council. The authority has now agreed a seven-figure settlement with Dr Monks, understood to be around £14 million.
North Northamptonshire Council will also have to make a public apology, in open court, for its predecessor's actions.
Geraint Thomas, partner and head of the disputes team at Laytons ETL Global which represented Monks, said: “This settlement finally provides full vindication for our client more than 20 years after East Northamptonshire Council began its abusive campaign against him.
"The impact on his health, finances and wellbeing has been nothing short of devastating, but I hope that today’s settlement will enable him at least to begin to rebuild his life."
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The campaign against Dr Monks began, he claimed, after he asked Lawrence to leave his pub following a dispute over a bottle of wine.
Lawrence later alleged she had suffered food poisoning and made a complaint to the council, sparking its initial investigation into a non-existent piece of mouldy ham.
Monks was convicted in relation to the Snooty Fox in 2000, despite the presentation of "thin and contradictory" evidence against him. East Northamptonshire Council also prosecuted him for food safety offences at his two other pubs, the Samuel Pepys at Slipton and the Vane Arms at Sudborough.
He was initially convicted in relation to the Samuel Pepys but, in 2003, appealed successfully against that conviction. The prosecution relating to the Vane Arms was then stayed, on the grounds that both prosecutions were abuses of process. The Snooty Fox conviction stood, however, until it was finally overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2015 following a referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Due to publicity surrounding the cases Monks was forced to sell all three pubs at a loss. He also lost his home and suffered a heart attack while in prison and has experienced serious health issues ever since.
Monks' barrister Paul Mitchell QC said: "The evidence against him on each occasion was thin and contradictory.
"Dr Monks said that ENC had persecuted him because he had offended a powerful local solicitor who was a lover of ENC’s chief executive. ENC did not deny this.
"If that had been proved at trial, then it might well have been established that the abuse of process consisted in ENC’s prosecuting Dr Monks because of an outrageous abuse of power by its chief executive: that was the “vendetta” abuse of process, where the true aim was to punish Dr Monks for offending the mistress, not for serving contaminated food."
Cllr Jason Smithers, leader of North Northamptonshire Council, apologised on behalf of the now-defunct ENC. He said: “[The] decision to prosecute Dr Monks in relation to the Snooty Fox was an abuse of process and should never have occurred. It is accepted that East Northamptonshire Council’s actions caused serious personal injury, loss, and damage to him over a period of more than 20 years, and I sincerely apologise for those actions."
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