Miscarriage of justice landlord sues council for up to £14m damages

We exclusively reveal the 22-year saga behind North Northamptonshire Council’s secret high court battle, as wrongly jailed publican pursues a civil legal action

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By Sarah Ward

A landlord wrongly jailed in a miscarriage of justice is suing North Northamptonshire Council for just under £14m in damages.

Former owner of upmarket pub The Snooty Fox in Lowick, Geoff Monks, was sent to a category A prison in 2003 after not paying the large fine he had been hit with for food safety offences brought by the former East Northamptonshire Council dating back to 1999.

He served 57 days in jail but in September 2015 he had his conviction overturned by the crown court after a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, an independent body which investigates suspected miscarriages of justice.

The former publican, who had health issues and lost his businesses because of the wrongful prosecutions by East Northamptonshire Council, now wants recompense for his treatment.

He was also pursued by the council in 2003 for food safety offences at his two other pubs in the nearby villages.

His civil action which claims malicious prosecution and malfeasance in public office is currently going through the High Court.

It has been going on since 2018 but has been kept secret from the public by the former East Northamptonshire Council (ENC), which was closed down at the end of March and replaced with the unitary North Northamptonshire Council. 

The issue became known to all North Northamptonshire councillors at the end of June when they were summoned to an extraordinary meeting held in private at Corby Cube where they were asked to agree a sum to offer Monks as a settlement. 

Monks rejected the offer and an application by the authority’s legal team to strike out the matter at a High Court in July was dismissed and so the case was set to go to trial. Yesterday (August 17) council leader Jason Smithers emailed councillors to say Monks is now willing to enter mediation. However if agreement cannot be reached the matter could be decided by a high court judge.

NN Journal is reporting the situation in the public interest, as it will be North Northamptonshire taxpayers that foot any bill for the former council’s wrongdoing. There are some restrictions on information between the two parties but there is no order put in place by the high court to stop the media reporting the matter.

Asked to comment, the council told NN Journal: “As this is subject to ongoing litigation, it is not appropriate to comment at this time.”

Monks, who owned the Snooty Fox near Kettering as well as the Samuel Pepys in Slipton and the Vane Arms in Sudborough, was first prosecuted back in 1999 after ENC environmental health officers said they had discovered some mouldy ham at his premises during an inspection.

Despite offering to carry out the remedial actions suggested by environmental officers, the council’s environment committee decided to delegate authority to the council’s then chief executive to prosecute Monks for food safety offences and in October 1999 he was convicted of six offences and given a £25,500 fine plus £8,300 court costs which was reduced to £13,000 on appeal the following year.

At the time this was reportedly the largest fine in the country for such an offence.

The authority also attempted to prosecute him for similar offences at his two other country pubs in 2003. He was successfully convicted and fined £12,500 for food hygiene offences at the Samuel Pepys but after he won an appeal the authority dropped the third prosecution.

In 2005 Monks tried to sue ENC in relation to the attempted prosecutions at the Sudborough and Slipton pubs, but in 2010 he withdrew the case with both parties covering their own costs.

In 2015 his 1999 conviction, for which he went to prison after defaulting on payment, was overturned and he began this current legal action three years ago.

Monks had to sell his businesses, suffered a heart attack, and spent more than £150,000 in legal bills during his course of fighting the authority.

His claim for £14m is to do with lost earnings from the popular eating establishments between 1999 up until 2024 when he had planned to retire. His argument is that if the council had not brought the prosecutions, he would have continued to run the then thriving pubs.

The legal battle is a big blow for the new authority, which already has to make £19m of savings this year. NN Journal understands the legal matter was little known when the new councils were being set up and came as a shock to senior officers and councillors running the new authority.

ENC was led by chief executive David Oliver from 2006 until his retirement in March this year. Both former leaders of East Northamptonshire council Cllr Andy Mercer and Cllr Stephen North are now members of the executive running the new unitary authority.

The costs of the settlement will now be borne by residents across North Northamptonshire, rather than those living in East Northants.

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