Gangmaster court case to be decided

Legal teams are to decide the future of a case involving 18 dairy farmers charged with using the services of an unlicensed gangmaster.

A case management hearing is due to take place at Swindon Magistrates Court at 2pm on Thursday (8 March).

The farmers are some of the biggest names in British dairying – including former NFU vice-president Gwyn Jones and Wills Bros Ltd of Cornwall.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty to using an unlicensed labour provider to recruit dairy workers for their farms.

Last autumn, dairy farmer Brian Barnett received a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to using the services of an unlicensed labour provider.

Mr Barnett had been selected as a test case in the hope that it would clarify legal matters relating to all those charged.

He pleaded guilty to the offence on behalf of family partnership Bill Barnett & Partners, of Astrop Farm, Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.

Exploitation charges against Mr Barnett were dropped.

District judge Simon Cooper said Mr Barnett was guilty only of a technicality – that of making sure the labour provider whose services he sought was properly licensed.

The remaining 18 cases were adjourned for a later date.

At the time, district judge Cooper expressed disappointment that the matter was taking so long.

“I am very concerned to get a solid timetable for this,” he said, suggesting setting up a special court to hear the cases in December.

But that proved too difficult, and the cases were rescheduled for this month.

The prosecution is being brought by DEFRA following a lengthy investigation by the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority.

Watch the video about Brian Barnett’s case.

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