Sutton closure ruled 'invalid'
A court has ruled on Victoria’s ‘slug gate’ case.
Melbourne's I Cook Foods owners, Ian and Ben Cook, have secured a “bittersweet victory” after the Supreme Court ruled that the closure of their catering business in 2019 following a listeria outbreak was unfair.
The decision by former chief health officer Brett Sutton to shut down the business was deemed invalid due to a lack of procedural fairness, according to Justice Michael McDonald.
The case, known as ‘slug gate’, stemmed from the death of an 86-year-old woman who contracted listeria at Knox Private Hospital, where I Cook Foods supplied food.
Despite the victory, the judge dismissed the company's bid for millions in damages. Ian Cook expressed his mixed feelings, saying, "This judgement can't stand; otherwise, you can just close businesses without any consequence. You can just destroy lives without any consequences.”
The Cooks are considering an appeal.
During the trial, I Cook Foods argued that Sutton breached the legal tort of misfeasance in public office, asserting that the closure order was invalid and Sutton was recklessly indifferent.
Justice McDonald upheld the invalidity claim but rejected recklessness.
“Once [Sutton] was satisfied that food being prepared at [I Cook Foods] was unsafe, there was an urgent need to make an order for cessation of production,” the judge said.
Despite reopening, I Cook Foods claimed significant losses, attributing it to the department's decision to publicly name them. The company says it lost clients and had to lay off its 41 staff.
Ben Cook criticised the Department of Health for its handling of the incident and aftermath, saying; “Sutton was wrong, the Department of Health was wrong. They knew it.”
Allegations of a planted slug and a theory that the council sought to shut down I Cook Foods to support a rival business have been under investigation since 2019.
A parliamentary committee and Victoria Police conducted probes, but no conclusive findings were made.
The City of Greater Dandenong, initially a co-defendant, was dropped from the case before the trial.
Ian Cook, who ran against former premier Daniel Andrews in 2022 on an anti-corruption platform, is running for the Mulgrave seat again in the upcoming by-election following Andrews' departure.