Win for ‘slug gate’ owner after judge finds business shutdown invalid

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A Supreme Court judge has ruled the order used to shut down catering company I Cook Foods following allegations of a listeria outbreak was invalid.

The case, which became known as the “slug gate” trial, ended on Tuesday with the finding a win for business owner Ian Cook and his family, but he won’t be awarded any compensation.

An emotional Ian Cook outside court.Credit: Chris Hopkins

Justice Michael McDonald found then chief health officer Brett Sutton failed to observe procedural fairness but was not reckless in his decision to close the catering company in February 2019.

In failing to prove recklessness, the judge dismissed Cook’s claims for damages following a 10-day trial.

Outside court, Cook cried as he labelled the judgment a “bittersweet victory”.

He vowed to appeal the dismissal of damages and said the fight for justice wasn’t over.

“The court has just ruled that Sutton was wrong. But there was no compensation for myself, my family, my employers. We will continue to fight,” he said.

“We’ve been doing this for ourselves and every Victorian.”

The food supplier was forced to close in February 2019 after health officials found it provided a sandwich to Knox Private Hospital patient Jean Painter, 86, who later died with a listeria infection.

Cook’s legal team had argued Sutton acted with “reckless indifference” to the consequences of closing the kitchen, and that the closure resulted in the “complete destruction of the business”.

But the Health Department argued Sutton’s actions were lawful, considered and done without malice in an honest attempt to protect the community.

The business shutdown has been plagued by allegations and counterclaims that a food inspector planted a slug in the commercial kitchen.

The company never reopened.

More to come.

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