NFU President Peter Kendall has called the GLA’s approach to the Marden Management farmer prosecutions “heavy-handed” and said that the absolute discharge would be a relief, but cold comfort to the farmers involved, after three years of stress and worry.
The NFU also believes the proceedings cost the prosecution in excess of £100,000 in legal costs.
The original investigation into Marden Management’s operation as an unlicenced gangmaster by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority started nearly three years ago and concluded on Friday February 8. The NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme provided substantial support to the farmers, contributing well over £100,000 to the legal costs incurred in defending these prosecutions, with support from the NFU Mutual.
Mr Kendall said the outcome of Friday’s hearing came as a great relief to the farmers who have been caught up in the court case, but the absolute discharge was ‘cold comfort’ given what the farmers have been through. “While they can now move on, the past three years have been incredibly difficult for these farmers and going through this ordeal has, for many, been at great personal cost.” he said.
“The farmers involved in this case co-operated with the GLA investigation into Marden Management from the outset, believing that the focus of the investigation was the unlicensed gangmaster, but expressed their shock to me when they received summonses out of the blue. They couldn’t understand why the Defra team decided to prosecute the farmers. The District Judge, at the hearing on Friday, said that the GLA’s guidance at the time was “misleading” because it wasn’t clear that the rules applied to the dairy industry.
What has been the outcome? All the farmers on Friday were given absolute discharges with no fines, just orders for costs. It’s flabbergasting to think how much these prosecutions have cost the taxpayer and it’s difficult to see how the public interest has been served by the bringing of these prosecutions.
The outcome for the farmers involved has been three difficult years of stress and uncertainty. They have been put through the mill, with a cloud hanging over them while the cases went through the Courts. To make matters worse, at one point in time, it appeared the prosecution was going to try to recover huge sums from the farmers under the ‘Proceeds of Crime Act’. This was dropped in March last year when the prosecution said it wasn’t going to allege that the farmers were aware that the workers were being exploited by the gangmaster.
The NFU has repeatedly called on the GLA to focus its regulatory activities on labour providers, not on labour users, unless there is clear evidence of exploitation on the part of the labour user. But in the case of the Marden prosecutions against the farmers, in the first “test case” case to be heard, the District Judge found there was “no question” of the farmer concerned having exploited labour.
We hope that Friday’s outcome draws a line under this kind of approach by the GLA which we believe has been very heavy-handed. The NFU wants to see “risk-based regulation” and “outcome focused regulation” rhetoric materialize into a measured approach which focuses regulatory effort and taxpayers’ money on labour providers and high-risk activities. The NFU wants to work closely with the GLA to ensure this happens.”
Former Vice President of the NFU Gwyn Jones, who was one of the farmers caught up in this case, said “Friday’s verdict has come as a great relief, and seems to me to have been of little benefit, least of all for the workers, many of whom have lost their original jobs. This case has taken its toll on all of us and I would like to thank the NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme which enabled us to fight our corner and get proper justice.”
Notes to editors
- On Friday last week (February 8) at Swindon Magistrates Court, the final hearing took place of the prosecutions brought against the farmers caught up in the GLA investigation of Marden Management. At the hearing, all of the remaining farmers pleaded guilty to the ‘technical’ offence of taking labour from an unlicensed gangmaster. They all received absolute discharges and whilst they have been ordered to pay £300 each towards the costs of the prosecution, they have not been ordered to pay any fines.
- The NFU also believes the proceedings cost the prosecution in excess of £100,000 in legal costs. Of that, £6,800 in total was recovered from the 18 farmers who were prosecuted.
- The NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme provided substantial support to the farmers, contributing well over £100,000 to the legal costs incurred in defending these prosecutions, with support from the NFU Mutual, for its policy holders within the group.
- NFU Panel Firm, Clarke Wilmott, acted for many of the farmers in defending these prosecutions. Law firm Bircham Dyson Bell also acted for some of the farmers. In Court, the farmers were represented by Adam Vaitlingham QC.