A pub landlord who lost everything after he was wrongly imprisoned alongside murderers over food safety laws has told how his ordeal saw him receive death threats in prison and also resulted in him suffering a heart attack.
Geoffrey Monks, 67, who ran The Snooty Fox in Kettering, Northamptonshire, was accused of breaking food safety laws when East Northamptonshire Council falsely claimed they found ‘mouldy ham’ inside the premises in the late 1990s.
The accusations came after local solicitor Jennifer Lawrence entered a dispute with Dr Monks over being served the ‘wrong bottle of wine’.
Ms Lawrence complained that she had suffered food poisoning at the upmarket pub, with the ENDC launching an investigation into ‘mouldy ham’ at the Snooty Fox.
Following six alleged infractions, Dr Monks was hit with the-then largest fine on record for breaching food safety offences – with magistrates ordering him to pay £33,800, which was reduced to £21,800 on appeal.
The pub boss could not afford to pay the fees after losing his businesses and his home, and in 2003 was imprisoned at the maximum security HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes for four months- with his cell adjacent to Soham murderer Ian Huntley.
After vehemently maintaining his innocence for more than two decades, Dr Monks has now been awarded a seven-figure settlement — thought to be about £4 million — by North Northamptonshire council after launching a High Court battle against them in 2019.
Geoffrey Monks, 67, who ran The Snooty Fox in Kettering, Northamptonshire, has been awarded a seven-figure settlement — thought to be about £4 million — by North Northamptonshire council after launching a High Court battle against them in 2019
Dr Monks, who described how he received death threats in prison after rumours began to swirl inside the premises that he worked for MI5, said his cell was next to murderer Ian Huntley.
He told The Sunday Times: ‘I saw him [Huntley] shuffling about … It wasn’t a nice time.’
On the night of the row with Ms Lawrence he said she had ordered a bottle of the German white wine Hock before later telling him: ‘I ordered a fine Burgundy not this muck.’
He continued: ‘All the locals warned me about a certain person that lived in the village, apparently she had had brushes with a lot of them and they had all come off badly.’
Ms Lawrence later claimed she had been diagnosed with food poisoning.
She said she fell unwell after eating pâté and drinking wine with a male friend at The Snooty Fox in 1998, but ‘never asked for East Northants Council to do anything about it’.
Roger Heath, then-Chief Executive of ENDC, was invited to oversee punishment by the council’s environment department and Dr Monks was convicted in 2000.
The pub landlord was ordered to pay £33,800, which was reduced to £21,800 on appeal, but as he could not afford to pay the fine he was sentenced to four months at the Category A prison.
The effect of the prosecutions, and the surrounding publicity, on Dr Monks’ businesses was catastrophic and he was forced to sell all three pubs at a loss.
He also sold his home and suffered a heart attack while in prison and has experienced serious health issues ever since.
Dr Monks also said the ordeal left his mother so distressed that she had a stroke and was unable to speak or swallow for the eight years until she ‘died suddenly’, The Sunday Times reports.
The publican was financially ruined by his prosecution, losing his home and businesses, and was unable to afford legal costs to challenge the rulings until 2019.
Dr Monks sued East Northamptonshire Council, now North Northamptonshire Council after the former went bust in 2018 for £14million after claiming loss of earnings for his three former thriving establishments.
During his High Court action Dr Monks described local solicitor Jenny Lawrence as a ‘sexual partner’ of former Northamptonshire Council chief executive Roger Heath. Both Mr Heath and Ms Lawrence strongly denied these claims when speaking to MailOnline.
Mr Heath, who would leave East Northamptonshire Council in early 2000s, now works as an independent consultant and most recently ran for political office as a Conservative council candidate in the Tomohun ward of Torquay.
Speaking to MailOnline on Friday, Mr Heath said he was contacted by the council’s solicitors in December 2020, telling them he had never had ‘any relationship with Ms Lawrence’, later claiming he ‘had never even met her.’
Speaking to MailOnline on Friday, Ms Lawrence said: ‘I have no idea who Roger is I simply do not know anyone at Northants Council sexually or otherwise.’
She said she did fall unwell after eating pâté and drinking wine with a male friend at The Snooty Fox in 1998, but ‘never asked for East Northants Council to do anything about it’.
‘At the end of the meal, I had hardly had anything to drink from the bottle of wine that we’d ordered and I said that I didn’t think it was the bottle we’d ordered,’ she said.
‘We pulled back the napkin that had been wrapped around the bottle and I think it was a Liebfraumilch or something but not what we’d ordered.
‘I called over Monks and pointed out that it was the wrong bottle. There was no scene, no nastiness and he certainly didn’t throw us out as he has alleged.
‘He says that I was part of a conspiracy but it did not happen like that.
‘On the Sunday, after dinner, I had the most awful sickness and diahorrea that I’ve ever had in my life.
The accusations came after local solicitor Jennifer Lawrence complained that she had suffered food poisoning at the upmarket pub
Former Northamptonshire chief executive Roger Heath, 74, (pictured in 2019) was invited to oversee punishment by the council’s environment department
Dr Monks, who ran The Snooty Fox (pictured) in Kettering, Northamptonshire, was accused of breaking food safety laws
‘By the Wednesday I couldn’t work it was so bad and the GP told me to get a sample to him. My son took it to the docs and that went to Kettering General Hospital.
‘Several days later, when I was over it, I had a letter from East Northants Council saying I had a notifiable infectious disease.
‘It was crazy and the Council wanted to know what I had eaten. I went through what I had eaten and they immediately went to Monks’ kitchen at the Snooty Fox and prosecuted him. They didn’t even ask me to attend the hearing.
‘I am absolutely shattered by the suggestion I had sexual relations with someone from the Council. It’s utterly absurd and this has come completely out of the blue.
‘I did not think I had done anything wrong and Mr Monks was found to have had two further health and safety breaches which had nothing to do with me at all.
‘I was described as being merely the butterfly who flapped her wings. If there is any vendetta it is a vendetta against me by Mr Monks.’
She added: ‘The infectious disease was Campylobacter. It was like an ecoli. It can only be picked up from puppy dogs, chickens, dirty barbeques and pate.
‘He tried to suggest it was from my barbeque but his insurance paid me out £6,000 for lost earnings as a result of what happened.’
Dr Monks was later accused of having mice and broken glass in his other local venues, The Vane Arms and Samuel Pepys pubs.
But appeal judges remarked that out of more than 7,000 food standards inspections by East Northamptonshire District Council over the course of a decade, just four convictions were made – three of which were against Dr Monks.
Environmental officers suggested Dr Monks carry out ‘remedial’ actions for the phantom breaches, but this was ignored and the punishment was directly overseen by Mr Heath.
Dr Monks would later claim the local authority launched an ‘abusive campaign’ against him after winning his appeals against his six convictions for food safety breaches.
Speaking after the trial, Paul Mitchell QC, for Dr Monks, said: ‘The evidence against him on each occasion was thin and contradictory.
‘He achieved the remarkable distinction of being the defendant to three of only a handful of food safety prosecutions the council had undertaken between 1990 and 2001, during which period it had carried out over 7,000 investigations.’
He went on: ‘If that had been proved at trial, then it might well have been established that the abuse of process consisted in ENC’s prosecuting Dr Monks because of an outrageous abuse of power by its chief executive: that was the ‘vendetta’ abuse of process, where the true aim was to punish Dr Monks for offending the mistress, not for serving contaminated food.’
North Northamptonshire’s taxpayers are now set to foot the bill for their local authority’s infractions in the late 1990s. The council will also offer an apology in open court for their predecessor’s actions.
Geraint Thomas, partner and head of the disputes team at Laytons ETL Global who led Dr Monks’ claim, insisted the settlement ‘provides full vindication for our client more than 20 years after East Northamptonshire Council began its abusive campaign against him.
Dr Monks lost ownership of The Snooty Fox (pictured) and his two other pubs The Vane Arms and Samuel Pepys, as well as his house as he faced financial ruin in the wake of the ‘abusive campaign’ against him, his lawyers claimed
After losing his businesses and his home, Dr Monks was sent to maximum security HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes (left). His cell was adjacent to Soham murderer Ian Huntley (right), who was awaiting trial at the time
‘The impact on his health, finances and wellbeing has been nothing short of devastating, but I hope that today’s settlement will enable him at least to begin to rebuild his life.
‘It is accepted East Northamptonshire Council’s actions caused serious personal injury, loss, and damage to him over a period of more than 20 years, and I sincerely apologise for those actions.’
Cllr Jason Smithers, Leader of North Northamptonshire Council, said: ‘East Northamptonshire Council’s decision to prosecute Dr Monks in relation to the Snooty Fox was an abuse of process and should never have occurred.
‘It is accepted that East Northamptonshire Council’s actions caused serious personal injury, loss, and damage to him over a period of more than 20 years, and I sincerely apologise for those actions.
‘I hope that Dr Monks is able to have his reputation restored and that the substantial damages which the Council has agreed to pay to him go some way towards assisting him to move forward with his life.’
Northamptonshire Police have since confirmed they are investigating to determine whether or not criminal offences should also be brought against the council.
How one publican relied on a legal defence last used successfully more than 160 years ago
Dr Geoffrey Monk’s legal team won their claim against East Northamptonshire District Council after applying the rarely used ‘abuse of process’ defence.
There have only been two successful civil actions brought to recover damages for the tort of abuse of process in English legal history: one in 1838 and the second in 1861. Both involved legal proceedings being brought as a tool of extortion.
In 1838, a Mr Grainger owned a ship which he granted a mortgage, despite fears that he would not be able to repay his loan.
His mortgagee, Mr Hill demanded payment before the debt was due, and Mr Grainger was jailed as a debtor that year.
Fearing a jail sentence, Grainger forfeited his ship to Mr Hill. But a court found the mortgagee had ‘abused its processes’ after used sheriffs to extort the seaman.
Mr Grainger was subsequently awarded damages from lost profits he could not make without his ship.
The second case, in 1861, involved a similar abuse of the court’s process.
Certain actions (even though they were not criminal prosecutions) began with the arrest and imprisonment of the defendant. Since 1861, however, actions alleging abuse of process have all failed.
One of the highest profile failures was Goldsmith v Sperrings in 1977 – the case where Sir James Goldsmith sued the distributors of Private Eye for libel, intending to settle with them on terms that they ceased to distribute the magazine and so drove it out of business.
The defendants asserted that Sir James was abusing the process of the court because his true purpose was to close Private Eye.
Writing a case note following the settlement, Dr Monks’ barrister Paul Mitchell QC explained Dr Monks’ allegation of abuse of process related not to a case of extortion but one either of vendetta or of capricious indifference to the Council’s own policy governing when it was to prosecute Food Safety Act offences.
If the case had gone to trial, a judge may have established there was an ‘abuse of process’ as the authority’s chief executive, Roger Heath, was accused by the defence of having a ‘vendetta’ and aimed to punish Dr Monks for offending the solicitor, not for serving contaminated food.