Pensioners fined for egg fraud

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Hens

Stephen and Anne Hobbs, a 65 and 66-year-old couple from Three Legged Cross in Dorset, have been fined for passing off battery farmed eggs as being from the hens in their garden. Trading Standards took the couple to court, where they were fined £300 each and made to pay the court costs of £1,178.

So what did they do? And are they Britain's oldest fraudsters?


Caught

The couple came under scrutiny when a member of the public noticed that despite not having bought any more hens, they were suddenly offering a lot more eggs for sale at their front gate. They contacted Trading Standards who bought some eggs and took them away for examination. The experts found that the eggs had originally been stamped with a producer code, which the couple had removed.

They discovered that the couple, who were charging £2.20 a dozen for their eggs, had bought them for £1.30 a dozen from a battery farm. They had bought a total of 12,000.

While the couple did not advertise the eggs specifically as being from their own garden, the court ruled that they had implied it, by the removal of the stamp, and by the fact the hens could be seen roaming nearby.

Why?

During the case, it emerged that the couple, who had been selling their own eggs for years, had suddenly suffered an egg shortage. Their hens stopped laying after being troubled by a fox, and they decided to supplement the supply for a while. They added that they didn't make a profit from selling the eggs, and that it just paid for the chicken feed.

The couple pleaded guilty to selling falsely-advertised eggs and removing their identification stamp at Bournemouth Crown court.

Ivan Hancock, of Dorset County Council's trading standards department, said in a statement that the reason this case was worth prosecuting is the importance of people knowing the provenance of their food - which has been at the forefront of consumers' minds since the horse meat scandal.

He said: "Many consumers choose to buy from local outlets to support local producers or particular methods of farming or production. Anyone misleading customers undermines that choice and abuses the trust consumers place on local food suppliers."

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So are this pair Britain's oldest fraudsters?

They have some stiff competition: they're not even the oldest fraudsters of the last few months. In the middle of this May a 72-year-old man was found guilty of fraudulently claiming over £30,000 in pension credit and council tax benefit for nine years, despite owning property overseas. He also had £140,000 in a bank account, which subsequently vanished. He was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for 18 months, and a 16 week curfew. The authorities will also pursue him for repayment.

A week earlier, a 76-year-old woman from Kirriemuir was found guilty of fraudulently claiming £18,000 in benefits, by failing to disclose her occupational pension. The sheriff said it was normally enough to justify a prison sentence, but given her age she was give a nine-month restriction of liberty order instead.

Then at the end of May this year, a 77-year-old woman was fined £7,500 for benefits fraud. She told the authorities that she lived on a small pension in Dundee, and she qualified for pension credit. However, while she took this benefit she was actually living in South Africa, had over £145,000 in savings and only popped back to Dundee twice a year. She avoided custody as she was too ill to even attend court.

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