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Brewery Director Admits Plotting To Contaminate Strongbow

Apr 23, 2003 - Brewery director Michael Hancocks has admitted plotting to contaminate the products of rival firm Bulmers - which produces Strongbow and Woodpecker - so they would be recalled. Bristol Crown Court heard Hancocks was the instigator and prime mover in the plan to pour yeast-based contaminants into the production line of HP Bulmer. Hancocks's British firm, Birmingham-based Aston Manor Brewery, was in direct competition with Bulmer's in the cider market, and the court heard the 63-year-old had considerable animosity towards the rival company. Hancocks, of Hafod Road, Hereford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud Hereford-based Bulmer's by introducing yeast-based contaminants into their products between August 31, 2001 and April 5, 2002.

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The court heard testimony that Hancocks wanted to cause Bulmer's economic and commercial disadvantage, which would help his company. Prosecutor Victor Temple said, "What he had in mind was to dishonestly steal a commercial march on Bulmer's, in effect to teach them a lesson." Hancocks was a major shareholder in Aston Manor - which makes Frosty Jack cider - but Temple said at the time profits were falling and job losses were feared. In a bid to produce yeasts, which could spoil Bulmer's products, Hancocks recruited chemist and former Aston Manor employee Richard Gay. He also used his daughter's partner, Paul Harris, to transport the material and recruit a Bulmer's employee with access to the production line. The court heard Harris thought he had found his man in forklift driver Russell Jordan, who was promised 16,000 for putting contaminants in the line.

However, Mr. Jordan revealed the plot to Bulmer's and police, and was instructed to keep meeting Harris while observation was carried out. During the course of the plot, three lots of contaminant were delivered to the Bulmer's worker, who was told the plan was to introduce a contaminant every month. However none ever entered the production line. According to scientific analysis, Gay had not managed to produce the yeasts intended. Those created would not have caused as much spoilage, but could still cause diarrhea and nausea, Mr. Temple added. Gay, 51, of Weston Lane, Tyseley, Birmingham, had previously pleaded guilty to possessing materials with a view to the commission of an offense. Paul Harris, of Harpersfield, Kings Caple, Hereford, earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to contaminate the products of HP Bulmer with intent to cause economic loss. All three men are expected to be sentenced on May 1.


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