An upmarket publican who lost everything when he was wrongfully imprisoned following a ‘vendetta’ by his local council is set to be paid millions in damages after agreeing a ‘substantial’ seven-figure settlement.
Geoffrey Monks, 67, who ran The Snooty Fox in Kettering, Northamptonshire, was accused of breaking food safety laws when East Northamptonshire Council claimed to have found ‘mouldy ham’ inside the premises in 1999.
Following these alleged infractions, Dr Monks was hit with the-then largest fine on record for breaching six food safety offences – £25,500 plus his legal costs of £8,300.
The pub boss could not afford to pay his costs after losing his businesses and his home, and in 2003 was imprisoned at the maximum security HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes – with his cell adjacent to Soham murderer Ian Huntley.
David Oliver, then Chief Executive of ENDC, was invited to oversee punishment by the council’s environment department, and it was claimed in court that the local authority had pursued a ‘vendetta’ against Dr Monks.
The pair’s disagreement is understood to have stemmed from an argument between Dr Monks and a solicitor – described in court as a ‘sexual partner’ of Mr Oliver’s – over a bottle of wine in The Snooty Fox. The council did not deny this claim.
In 2015, Dr Monks won a retrial of the Snooty Fox case, and two other prosecutions made against two other former venues were also quashed.
After vehemently maintaining his innocence for more than two decades, Dr Monks has now agreed a seven-figure settlement figure after launching a High Court battle against the council in 2019.
The settlement is believed to be in the region of £14million, and it is just the third time in history that an applicant has successfully claimed ‘abuse of process’, the last such case being in 1861.
Public Geoffrey Monks, 67, has agreed a seven-figure settlement figure, believed to be in the region of £14m, with East Northamptonshire Council after launching a High Court battle in 2019 over his wrongful conviction and loss of earnings
Monks who ran The Snooty Fox in Kettering, Northamptonshire (pictured), was wrongly jailed after East Northamptonshire Council claimed to have found ‘mouldy ham’ inside the premises in 1999
Dr Monks’ 25-year nightmare began in 1998 when he barred solicitor Jenny Lawrence from the Snooty Fox after she was reportedly furious over being served the ‘wrong bottle of wine’.
Ms Lawrence complained that she had suffered food poisoning at the upmarket pub, with the ENDC launching an investigation into ‘mouldy ham’ at the Snooty Fox.
Monks alleged that Ms Lawrence, who is understood to no longer practice law, was in a ‘sexual relationship’ with East Northamptonshire Council’s chief executive, David Oliver at the time. The council did not deny this claim.
In 2000, he was convicted for the Snooty Fox ‘offences’, despite his legal team arguing the evidence offered against him was both ‘thin and contradictory’. The prosecution was quashed 15 years later.
Dr Monks was later accused of having mice and broken glass in his other local venues, The Vane Arms and Samuel Pepys pubs.
Judges remarked that out of more than 7,000 food standards inspections by East Northamptonshire District Council over the course of a decade, just four convictions were made – three of which were against Mr Monks.
Environmental officers suggested Monks carry out ‘remedial’ actions for the phantom breaches, but this was ignored and the punishment was directly overseen by Mr Oliver.
Monks would later claim the local authority launched an ‘abusive campaign’ against him after winning his appeals against his six convictions for food safety breaches.
East Northamptonshire Council’s chief executive David Oliver (pictured) was allegedly in a sexual relationship with solicitor Jenny Lawrence at the time she made a food poisoning complaint against The Snooty Fox
After losing his businesses and his home, Dr Monks was sent to maximum security HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes (left). His cell was adjacent to Sohan murderer Ian Huntley (right), who was awaiting trial at the time
Dr Monks would spend 57 days in Category A HMP Woodhill in Buckinghamshire after failing to pay the record-breaking fees from the alleged food safety breaches.
While imprisoned in the maximum security jail that once housed murderers, rapists and terrorists, Dr Monks suffered a heart attack and has suffered crippling health issues since.
The publican was financially ruined by his prosecution, losing his home and businesses, and was unable to afford legal costs to challenge the rulings until 2019.
He is understood to have run up bills of more than £150,000 following his high-profile action against the local authority that he claims ruined his life.
Dr Monks sued East Northamptonshire Council, now North Northamptonshire Council after the former went bust in 2018, for £14million after claiming loss of earnings for his three former thriving establishments.
North Northamptonshire’s taxpayers are now set to foot the bill for their local authority’s infractions. The council will also offer an apology in open court for their predecessor’s actions.
Geraint Thomas, partner and head of the disputes team at Laytons ETL Global who led Dr Monks’ claim, insisted the settlement ‘provides full vindication for our client more than 20 years after East Northamptonshire Council began its abusive campaign against him.
‘The impact on his health, finances and wellbeing has been nothing short of devastating, but I hope that today’s settlement will enable him at least to begin to rebuild his life.
‘It is accepted East Northamptonshire Council’s actions caused serious personal injury, loss, and damage to him over a period of more than 20 years, and I sincerely apologise for those actions.’
Cllr Jason Smithers, Leader of North Northamptonshire Council, said: ‘East Northamptonshire Council’s decision to prosecute Dr Monks in relation to the Snooty Fox was an abuse of process and should never have occurred.
‘It is accepted that East Northamptonshire Council’s actions caused serious personal injury, loss, and damage to him over a period of more than 20 years, and I sincerely apologise for those actions.
‘I hope that Dr Monks is able to have his reputation restored and that the substantial damages which the Council has agreed to pay to him go some way towards assisting him to move forward with his life.’
Northamptonshire Police have since confirmed they are investigating to determine whether or not criminal offences should also be brought against the council.
How one publican relied on a legal defence last used more than 160 years ago
Dr Geoffrey Monk’s legal team won their claim against East Northamptonshire District Council after applying the rarely used ‘abuse of process’ defence.
There have only been two successful civil actions brought to recover damages for the tort of abuse of process in English legal history: one in 1838 and the second in 1861. Both involved legal proceedings being brought as a tool of extortion.
In 1838, a Mr Grainger owned a ship which he granted a mortgage, despite fears that he would not be able to repay his loan.
His mortgagee, Mr Hill demanded payment before the debt was due, and Mr Grainger was jailed as a debtor that year.
Fearing a jail sentence, Grainger forfeited his ship to Mr Hill. But a court found the mortgagee had ‘abused its processes’ after used sheriffs to extort the seaman.
Mr Grainger was subsequently awarded damages from lost profits he could not make without his ship.
The second case, in 1861, involved a similar abuse of the court’s process.
Certain actions (even though they were not criminal prosecutions) began with the arrest and imprisonment of the defendant. Since 1861, however, actions alleging abuse of process have all failed.
One of the highest profile failures was Goldsmith v Sperrings in 1977 – the case where Sir James Goldsmith sued the distributors of Private Eye for libel, intending to settle with them on terms that they ceased to distribute the magazine and so drove it out of business.
The defendants asserted that Sir James was abusing the process of the court because his true purpose was to close Private Eye.
The second case, in 1861, involved a similar abuse of the court’s process, which in The Court of Appeal said that Sir James had an arguable claim for libel, and if it were settled on terms that resulted in Private Eye being put out of business, that was merely one of the consequences of the distributors’ potential liability being removed by way of legitimate settlement.
The consistent approach of the courts since then has been to take a generous approach to establishing a connection between the stated aim of the court proceedings said to be abusive and the true intentions of the alleged abuser: the policy might be said to have been one that did not particularly clip the wings of those who are content to use legal proceedings as a weapon to intimidate as much as a route to justice for damage suffered.
In Dr Monks’ case, however, the allegation of abuse of process related not to a case of extortion but one either of vendetta or of capricious indifference to the Council’s own policy governing when it was to prosecute Food Safety Act offences.