Leave it to the London tabloids to hype whatever news event is being covered.
Although this relatively minor incident dates back more than five years ago, the conviction of a British meat dealer who illegally sold horsemeat is being treated like a scandal involving the royal family.
The headline in the Daily Mail read: “Businessman is found guilty of mixing HORSE meat with beef before flogging it to unsuspecting manufacturers of ready meals and burgers for Tesco and Asda.”
That puts the story right up there with the newspaper’s equally SHOCKING headline that “Kim Kardashian’s company is hit with a $100 MILLION lawsuit for endorsing a selfie phone case after a rival business claims it is a rip off of their product!”
But back to the horsemeat story.
The meat dealer, London resident Andronicos Sideras, was found guilty of being part of a $260,000 conspiracy to pass off 30 tons of horsemeat as beef, much of which apparently entered the food chain.
Sideras, one of the owners of meat processor Dinos & Sons, mixed the meats together before selling it to other companies in a plot to deceive consumers and food processors.
As the Daily Mail described it, “The plot unraveled in 2012 when one of the loads ended up in a Freeza Meat store in Newry, Northern Ireland, and a surprise health inspection by Newry and Mourne District Council later revealed a third of the pallets contained horsemeat.”
Here’s the intriguing part of the tale.
What turned out to be the fatal piece of evidence against Sideras was the discovery of horse ID chips that inspectors found in the meat. These microchips are about the same size as grains of rice, and as a result, the inspectors were able to trace them to a pair of horses from Poland named Trak and Wiktor, along with a hunting horse named Carnesella Lady, from County Galway in Ireland.
That is certainly eye-opening, but the most INCREDIBLE part of this story is the fact that the jury of five men and seven women at Inner London Crown Court took more than 10 hours to deliver a guilty verdict after a four-week trial.
And the verdict wasn’t even unanimous.
The charge is illegally selling horsemeat. The evidence is the pallets of meat seized from the defendant’s company, which contain ID microchips from three horses, whose photos were likely shown to the jury. And two other co-conspirators, Dinos & Sons executive Alex Beech, and Ulrik Nielsen, the owner of Danish wholesaler FlexiFoods, a supplier to Sideras’ company, had already pleaded guilty to their role in the plot.
Look, I know O.J. was found not guilty of a double murder, but all the prosecutors had in that case was a bloody glove belonging to the defendant, the victim’s blood on the inside of O.J.’s Bronco, bloody shoe prints matching O.J.’s Bruno Magli shoes leading away from the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, a bloody sock in O.J.’s bedroom that DNA evidence identified as his ex-wife’s and testimony about a series of violent arguments between him and his ex, including 911 calls and numerous police reports.
In this case there were horse ID microchips that inspectors found after searching — by hand — through more than 12 tons of meat in boxes that were falsely labeled as 100% beef.
Perhaps the British trial courts operate differently from ours, although I thought that English common law was the basis of our entire system of jurisprudence. Even if they’re don’t, how does a prosecutor not get a unanimous guilty verdict for selling meat from actual animals named Trak, Wiktor and Carnesella Lady?
What, a Greek-hating detective planted the microchips in the 12 tons of product to frame Sideras?
I can’t imagine what the defense had to say in its summation.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let’s not rush to judgment here. Those microchips could have been planted by any number of people. There’s no evidence my client had anything to do with this nefarious scheme. He loves horses — always has — and would never dream of butchering such beautiful animals. And if exonerated, he has pledged to spend his remaining days searching for the real culprit in this case. Please find him not guilty. Thank you.”
The real irony here is that although the tabloids, and the public, have treated the horsemeat scandal as if it were a celebrity homicide case, the product itself, though adulterated in terms of how it’s labeled, isn’t radioactive.
Nobody died from eating horsemeat. The black-market sourcing of the product bypasses the veterinary inspections system, of course, and that’s unacceptable.
But the media react as if people had been poisoned, whereas there isn’t anything inherently unhealthy about horsemeat.
Just ask the French.
Finally, you gotta love the statement issued by the guy who headed up the investigation. As the Daily Mail reported:
“When asked whether any horsemeat may have ended up on people’s dinner tables, Detective Chief Superintendent Glenn Maleary of the City of London Police said, ‘I think we can say the meat we recovered definitely didn’t.’ ”
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.