THE OWNER of a rat-infested café in an equestrian centre who flouted food hygiene laws has been ordered to pay nearly £14,000 in fines and costs by Huntingdonshire Magistrates.

The Gallery Café in Manor Farm Equestrian Centre in Wyton was ravaged by vermin.

The kitchen was caked in rodent droppings and two mummified mice were found on the fridge motor, the court heard.

A rats’ nest was spotted behind a bottle cooler, and two live rats were found between the wall of the office and the wall of the feed container.

As she handed magistrates the dead mice in a jiffy bag to sniff, Vicki Stevens, prosecuting for Huntingdonshire District Council, said it was difficult to convey the rancid smell just by looking at the pictures.

She added: “This is the worst case I have ever prosecuted.”

Edward Maguire, 56, pleaded guilty to seven hygiene offences and was fined a total of £10,500. He was also ordered to pay £3,262.35 in court costs.

Presiding magistrate Celia Chignell told Maguire: “For two months you were aware of the rat infestation,” adding that failure to address the problem immediately showed recklessness. The court heard how HDC’s environmental health department had been alerted to the problem by a tip-off from a concerned customer.

Health officers called in the council’s pest control supervisor, Martin Roberts, who made a professional assessment of the cafe.

He said: “In my opinion this is the worst I have seen in my 20 years of pest control.

“The amount of droppings and rodent damage there means that the infestation must have been going on for at least six months or more.”

Despite opening his café once or twice a week for equestrian events, Maguire had also failed to address the dirt on the fixtures and fittings.

Environmental health officer Belinda Betham noted a wooden structure behind the fridge was soaked in urine and had been gnawed.

An inch of congealed fat and carbonised food was found in one of the griddles, with grease, grime and mouse droppings found in the oven and on other utensils.

David Potter, mitigating, told the court that Maguire had shut the café immediately after the visit from environmental health, and had co-operated fully throughout.

He said that Maguire was running the café as an altruistic service to his customers, rather than for profit, adding that, on the last day of opening, takings were only £30. His client was also making a £1,300 loss each month and was potentially facing eviction.

Mr Potter said that the kitchen was now in an acceptable condition, and would be inspected once a month by pest control experts.