before the beak | 

Farmer who made fortune on government scheme faces jail for importing Chinese antibiotics

He importer an unauthorised veterinary medicinal product, namely Amoxicillin - a penicillin-based antibiotic.
Sunday World reporter Steven Moore confronts Hobson

Sunday World reporter Steven Moore confronts Hobson

Steven Moore

A champion chicken farmer who made a fortune from RHI was up before the 'beak' last week for committing a 'fowl' by importing illegal Chinese antibiotics.

Paul Hobson, who was publicly named in 2017 after he claimed more than £600,000 (€714k) in four years through the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, pleaded guilty at Dungannon Crown Court to three charges relating to unauthorised medicines.

Two of these involve importing an unauthorised veterinary medicinal product, namely Amoxicillin - a penicillin-based antibiotic.

Two further charges were not proceeded with and the 59-year-old from Mullybrannon Road, Dungannon, is due to be sentenced in the new year.

In 2017 it emerged he had 13 RHI boilers and was the fifth largest recipient on a long list of non-domestic claimants, having been paid £659,540 - though there's no suggestion he had done anything wrong.

The botched scheme, dubbed 'Cash for Ash', was a failed renewable energy (wood pellet burning) incentive scheme that has been reported to potentially cost the public purse almost £500 million.

The plan, initiated in 2012, was overseen by the government who failed to introduce proper cost controls, allowing it to spiral out of control.

Hobson, who had been one of Moy Park's biggest suppliers, has won several awards for his farming and welfare methods.

Poultry farmer Paul Hobson (59) from Dungannon, Co Tyrone

Poultry farmer Paul Hobson (59) from Dungannon, Co Tyrone

He was named as Moy Park's farmer of the year six years ago and also won the award for High Welfare Standard.

But his chickens came home to roost when Moy Park terminated its contract with him and last night a source told the Sunday World: “Paul Hobson will never supply Moy Park again.”

This week Hobson told the Sunday World it had been “a very expensive mistake” after he had been suspended from keeping birds on his farm – which has capacity for 170,000 chickens – after his arrest two years ago.

Initially he told us he would need to speak to his solicitor before commenting but then proceeded to tell us he had sourced the antibiotics from China and had not intended them to be used for anything but proper methods.

Hobson's farm is able to house 17,000 chickens

Hobson's farm is able to house 17,000 chickens

Antibiotics can be used for animal welfare reasons but are strictly regulated and should only be prescribed by a vet. But they can also be used as a growth promoter to reduce the amount of feed it takes to get a bird to slaughter weight.

Hobson was adamant this week that that was something he was not interested in and he said after he was arrested all his birds had been tested and nothing untoward had been found.

"It's hard to get a vet and I have so many birds so I thought this would be quicker and would be better for the welfare of the birds," he told us.

"But it's turned out to have been a very expensive mistake. I was suspended and lost all my birds. I was only interested in the welfare of the birds, nothing else."

Hobson - who also runs a tanning salon from his chicken farm - said he was told the maximum sentence could be eight months behind bars but he was hoping that wouldn't be the case, having pleaded guilty.

In October 2019 an investigation was launched to establish whether antibiotics seized at a UK airport were meant for poultry meat produced in Northern Ireland.

The BBC reported at the time, without identifying Paul Hobson, how a Co Tyrone farm was searched and items seized.

Hobson' was awarded Best Farm by Moy Park in 2014 and 2015.

Hobson' was awarded Best Farm by Moy Park in 2014 and 2015.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the investigation was being led by the Department of Health's Medicines Regulatory Group.

"Daera, under its statutory role in the surveillance and sampling for veterinary medicine residues in food producing animals, is providing assistance to the investigation," the spokesperson said at the time.

Moy Park immediately took steps to ensure that poultry from Hobson's farm was not sent for human consumption.

The authorities and the industry have been working hard to try and reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture in an attempt to combat anti-microbrial resistance.

It can lead to the development of disease-resistant superbugs which can transfer to humans and are difficult to treat.

The seizure of the antibiotics was first reported by the Guardian newspaper which said it involved a consignment of Chinese-made Amoxicillin.

Moy Park confirmed that the investigation centred on a privately-owned farm which supplied it.

Back in 2019 the chicken giant said: "This matter is being investigated by the relevant authorities and we believe it is an isolated incident."

It said the industry was subject to "robust antibiotic residue monitoring procedures" carried out by government vets. It said the test results across its supply farms had been negative.

"Any breach of the strict regulation on the use of veterinary medicine is unlawful and completely unacceptable to us."

In 2019 the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health jointly launched a five-year plan to tackle the issue of anti-microbial resistance.

Hobson appeared in the dock of Dungannon Crown Court where a defence barrister requested Judge Peter Irvine QC to move straight to sentencing. But the judge refused and decided pre-sentence reports were required.

He remanded Hobson on continuing bail at £500 and ordered he to return for sentencing next month.

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