A FOOD preparation company that traded at Carew market operated in such disgusting conditions it posed a threat to human life, a judge heard today.

Marley Cwmgors Food Ltd, of Cwmgors, ignored warning letters from trading standards officers and had to be prosecuted to shut it down.

The company admitted 43 offences relating to the mislabelling of foods, including cheeses and meat pies, and unhygienic food preparation conditions.

Two directors of the company, Robert and Judith Hodges, and their son Robert Hodges junior, said to be the driving force, admitted similar offences.

Lee Reynolds, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that actions had been brought by both Pembrokeshire and Neath Port Talbot county councils in relation to market stalls run by the company at locations across south, west and Mid Wales.

Powys County Council had already prosecuted independently after unhygienic foods were found on sale in Newtown, which resulted in an £8,000 fine that the company was slowly paying off.

In the wake of the fresh prosecutions that company had ceased trading and now existed only because it could not legally close down while court action was pending.

Mr Reynolds said numerous examples of unhygienic trading were found at Cwmgors market stalls in Newtown, Machynlleth, Carew near Tenby and Resolven.

They included foods being offered for sale six months beyond 'best by' dates.

He said the company was registered at 109 Heol y Gors, Cwmgors, but used number 90 for the preparation and packaging of foods.

There, officers found conditions that were so disgusting they posed a risk to life through food poisoning, he said.

Officers found spiders, maggots and even a slug. Food preparation equipment was filthy and even the cleaning utensils such as mops were themselves dirty.

Mr Reynolds said all three authorities tried to deal with the situation by a combination of warnings and offers of help.

"The warnings were ignored and the offers of help were rebuffed," he said.

Tom Scapens, the barrister representing all four defendants, said that Hodges senior had backed out of the business and their son had taken over control, only to find himself out of his depth.

He said the company had no assets or monies, and neither had the other three defendants.

Mr Hodges senior was waiting for a hip replacement, his wife worked part time in a supermarket and their son was now a parcel delivery driver.

Judge Peter Heywood said he would like "to hit the defendants in the pocket" but there wasn't any money left.

He said he could hit the company with a £100,000 fine but it simply would not be paid.

He said he took the view that Robert Hodges junior, aged 28, was the driving force behind the business. He was jailed for 12 months, suspended for two years, and ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.

Robert Hodges senior, aged 59, was made the subject of a community order. Judge Heywood said he had to attach a condition and imposed a 30 day curfew between 9pm and 6am.

Judith Rogers, aged 57, was ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.

The company was fined £3,000.

The three defendants, all of Heol y Gors, were prohibited from working in the management of a company dealing in food until further order.

"One thing is clear," said Judge Heywood, "the local authorities bent over backwards to try and help you but they were rebuffed.

"It is important that food is safe to eat."