Horse shaped meat

Two businessmen have pleaded guilty to a charge linking them to the 2013 horsemeat scandal.

Alex Ostler-Beech, 44, of Hull, and Ulrik Nielsen, 57, from Denmark, both admitted conspiracy to defraud related to the sale of beef products mixed with horsemeat at a hearing at Inner London Crown Court yesterday (26 October).

The pair pleaded guilty to charges of “conspiring together, and with others, to defraud purchasers of goods that contained, wholly or in part, a mixture of beef and horsemeat, by dishonestly arranging for beef and horsemeat to be combined for sale as beef” between 1 January 2012 and 31 October 2012.

A third defendant, Andronicos Sideras, 54, from London, pleaded not guilty to the charge and will face trial on 3 July 2017.

Ostler-Beech and Nielsen were released on bail until sentencing at the end of the trial of Sideras. They are expected to formally set out in writing their involvement in the fraud.

Judge Usha Karu warned the pair faced a custodial sentence dependent on the nature and extent of the allegations, according to the Evening Standard.

The case followed an investigation by the FSA and City of London Police. The FSA said it would not comment on the case while it was ongoing.

Andy Morling, head of the National Food Crime Unit, welcomed the early guilty pleas by the two defendants, and said on Twitter they reflected “the solid investigation conducted” by police.

Professor Chris Elliott, who led a government-commissioned review into the horsemeat scandal, said it had taken a long time to get convictions but this reflected the complexities of the case.

“We should be very grateful for the hard work that went into the successful prosecutions. I know the work of Hull Local Authority and the Food Standards Agency were pivotal in supporting the City of London Police’s investigation,” Elliott said. “Four years seems a long time, way too long, of course, but what we must remember is fraud is one of the most difficult crimes to prove and especially food fraud, and the authorities had little or no experience of dealing with organised crime in this area. Next time, and yes I’m afraid there will be a next time, those who perpetrate criminal activity in our food supply system will be brought to justice more swiftly after the learning’s from this scandal.”