By TONY MOBILIFONITIS
VICTORIAN premier Dan Andrews, chief health officer Brett Sutton and others may regret the day they crushed a Melbourne food manufacturing business after a slug was planted in the building and hygiene investigations were misrepresented. Two retired senior Victorian police officers have amassed several thousand pages of evidence in a $50 million civil damages case against the City of Greater Dandenong Council and the Victorian Department of Health over the incident.
“Slug-gate” has been described by the police officers as the worst case of corruption they have ever seen in their policing careers. The case revolves around a slug planted in the iCook Food manufacturing plant by Dandenong Council health inspector Elizabeth Garlick on February 18th, 2019. The slug “discovery” and earlier factory samples were used by the council’s health department as a reason shut the factory down.
A police investigation into the matter listed Sutton as a “person of interest’’ in a briefing note. He was among six public officials named in the inquiry which recommended an investigation into the firm’s shutdown and whether it was the target of a malicious prosecution. But no charges were brought against any official and Prof Sutton was found to have “no knowledge of the alleged iCook sting”.
The investigation was shut down early in April much to the disgust of iCook owner Ian Cook and the investigators. However, on April 22 a “review” was ordered by Victoria Chief of Police Shane Patton. The matter has received extensive media coverage in recent weeks.
It was somewhat of a replay of the 2003 Australian TGA shutdown of Pan Pharmaceuticals, then Australia’s biggest manufacturer of herbal, vitamin, mineral and nutritional supplements and some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. It turned out to be little more than a corrupt big pharma-government operation to kill competition, as described by health writer Eve Hillary. Justice eventually prevailed with a $55 million settlement awarded to Pan Pharmaceuticals owner Jim Selim.
But the Pan Pharma lesson was apparently never learned by the Dandenong mega-council, Andrews in his former job as Victorian Health Minister, chief health officer Brett Sutton and others involved in iCook’s shutdown.
In 2009 Victorian councils received $9 million from the then Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese and $6m from the Victorian Health Department to set up food delivery businesses. The funds were part of the federal Labor government’s billions of dollars being spent on stimulus projects. “That is when 14 Victorian local councils decided to create Community Chef. It was to be a commercial catering company just like mine, but Community Chef would be ratepayer funded,” Cook told a June 17, 2020 Victorian Parliament inquiry into the forced closure of his business. Community Chef began trading in 2010.
Cook told the inquiry that despite the massive support received by Community Chef, it continued to lose tens of millions of dollars, prompting the Department of Local Government (then under the former and now sacked minister Adem Somyurek) to offer to buy out Community Chef from each of its council shareholders for $1 per council. “In other words, Community Chef is now worthless. I should make it clear here one of those councils that is a shareholder in the failing business is the City of Greater Dandenong,” Cook said.
On February 1, before the slug episode, the council, under orders from the Victorian Department of Health, sent health inspector (later to become whistleblower) Kim Rogerson to test samples and surfaces at iCook after an elderly woman had tested positive for listeria mono and died at Knox Private Hospital. iCook came through the tests without any problem, but the results were withheld by the Department of Health. Rogerson has stated that senior Dandenong council figures tried to force her to alter her statement for a brief-of-evidence against Dandenong South-based iCook.
Only a few weeks later the then acting chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton, the man seen throughout much of 2020 often joining the daily COVID case announcements by Dan Andrews, executed the shutdown order on iCook and condemned three tonnes of food worth $700,000 to the tip. He also defamed the iCook brand when he falsely named it as the source of a serious listeria outbreak “which could kill thousands of people”.
That was the end of Mr Cook’s business and the jobs of more than 45 workers. “At the time this defamatory claim was aired by this representative of the Victorian government, the department already had the test result which proved my business did not kill anyone, and yet the falsehood was broadcast. Some people still falsely believe that I am a negligent killer. I cannot begin to describe how devastating that radio interview was to my workers, my family and myself,” Cook told the parliamentary inquiry.
Two swabbing reports in fact showed I Cook Foods was not the source of any listeria connected to the deceased and that the source was actually a smallgoods manufacturer, yet no smallgoods manufacturers were ever targeted or tested by the department. “The first report showed that our food was safe, and it was not released until two weeks after the department had ordered the destruction of all I Cook Foods stock,” Cook told the inquiry. “And this delay forced all of our contracts into default.”
The second report from the Doherty Institute proved iCook was not the source of the listeria mono but was withheld for a full month by the department. An employee then lied to Cook about the contents of the reports, claiming the information contained about the genetics of the listeria was beyond dispute.
Sutton and (then Health Minister) Dan Andrews should now be worried men because Ian Cook, with the help of retired Detective Sgt Paul Brady and Detective Inspector Rod Porter are going to seek $50 million in civil damages from those involved. The two ex-cops have dedicated their skills and time pro bono to seeing justice done.
Sutton’s response will be interesting to watch, as he moves in the circles of the global health network currently seeking to suppress national governments and individual liberties worldwide under the guise of the wildly misrepresented pandemic. Sutton is a current Associate of Melbourne’s Burnet Institute Centre for International Health, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Sutton also sits on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health, a Fellow of the Australasian College of Tropical Medicine and a Fellow of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM). He is also Adjunct Clinical Professor at Monash University member of the Faculty of Travel Medicine. A family company that manufactures food for delivery is probably of little concern to public health super bureaucrats like Sutton. Perhaps he was simply given bad advice by his government advisers.
Cook has called on Elizabeth Garlick to come clean on who put her up to the slug planting. He finds it hard to believe she carried it out on her own initiative. In Victoria, councils that prosecute food businesses for health offences can claim the massive fines as revenue, which is certainly an incentive to do that. But Rogerson said there was a conspiracy to shut down iCook. She took leave to avoid being complicit as a health inspector in the evidence tampering.
Cook told Sam Newman’s podcast (“You Cannot Be Serious” April 21st) that Community Chef was desperate to survive as the last food delivery business standing in the market. Greater Dandenong Council CEO John Bennie sat on the board of Community Chef.
Rod Porter first spoke with Ian Cook for four hours and was given details of the corrupt actions of various individuals and entities including the City of Greater Dandenong and its health department. “These departments and individuals are entrusted with statutory powers that they have just straight out abused. They’ve deliberately behaved criminally and in doing so have shown a total disregard for the law,” Porter told Newman.
“I’ve got to say this, in my 26 years as a police officer I’ve never seen anything so disgustingly corrupt and evil as what has been happening here and the people involved in bringing this innocent family and his business down, have absolutely no morals and no soul,” Porter added.
Brady said it was the worst corruption case he had ever encountered, considering that those involved were paid public officials trusted by the public and behaved in “such and evil, disgraceful and reprehensible manner”. “Bear in mind these health inspectors are actually investigating officials under the Crimes Act, so they have the same obligations as police officers.”
Cook, assisted by Brady, had made complaints to Dandenong detectives who spent many hours studying videotape of the factory inspection and investigating generally. A brief was written, and Cook was told action would be taken against the officials involved. However, the detective about to do that was placed on forced leave and the brief moved to Moorabbin police. The Moorabbin detective given the brief also ended up on forced leave after suggesting Dandenong should just get on with the job.
The brief was then taken from him and sent to Casey police, where the senior detective said he would act after approval from higher ranks. He then came back saying “nothing to see here”. “It was quite evident they (unknown officials at a higher level) were out to kill the brief from whoah to go,” said Brady.
The council charged Cook’s business with 48 breaches of the Food Act and 48 mirror charges against Cook personally. He subsequently filed a contest mention at the Dandenong court where all the evidence was subpoenaed. The charges were suddenly dropped.
The slug planting operation was caught on factory security cameras and Michael Cook’s phone camera. The council, when confronted with the evidence, tried to worm their way out by producing their own version of the slug-on-the-floor photo – but it was photoshopped without a piece of tissue dropped nearby by Ms Garlick. The slug was also noted by an expert to be foreign to the locality and nocturnal and would not have moved across a floor cleaned with chlorine in daytime hot weather.