THE Royal Wells Hotel was yesterday ordered to pay almost £170,000 in fines and court fees after the Borough Council discovered its failure in hygiene standards were ‘so serious’ it was forced to take legal action.

It is thought to be the highest fine awarded against an establishment in the town for this type of offence.

Council inspectors found the Shepherd Neame hotel to be in violation of four food hygiene safety standards, in what one member of the council described as a complete ‘disregard’ for basic hygiene and a ‘health risk’.

The inspection took place in June last year following a complaint received about rats in the kitchen.

During this and subsequent visits over the following days, Environmental Officers identified a widespread rat infestation and other failings that posed a risk to the safety of the food being served.

The problems were so serious that the Council believed the premises should be closed with immediate effect. In response Shepherd Neame voluntarily closed their kitchen for four days.

The Council’s investigation revealed that hotel failed to escalate its response to pest proofing advice given by its contracted pest control agency and failed to comply with its food safety management system.

It has since apologised for its response to the inspection and Shepherd Neame has replaced the hotel management. The new management has a ‘positive approach’ to working with the council.

Councillor Dr Ronen Basu, Cabinet member with responsibility for Sustainability said: “This disregard for even the most basic standards of hygiene and food safety put people’s health at risk. Whilst I acknowledge their apology, I think it entirely reasonable that the owners should be held to account and fined.”

He continued: “Residents can be reassured that the Borough Council is working in their best interests and the Council will take action if public health is put at risk.”

Action taken by the Council led to Shepherd Neame Ltd appearing in court in Medway yesterday [Tuesday], where they pleaded guilty to four charges of food hygiene offences. They were fined £160,000 and had costs of £9,988 awarded against them.