FOOD fraudsters who misled unsuspecting customers by selling battery eggs at their farm gates have been fined £300 each.

Research scientist Anne Hobbs, 66, and her husband Stephen Hobbs, 65, admitted selling poultry farm hens’ eggs, giving the false impression that they had been laid by their own free range chickens.

The retired couple from West Moors Road, Three Legged Cross, also pleaded guilty to selling eggs with the producer stamps removed and failing to identify their supplier.

Prosecuting at Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court, Martin Thursby said the Hobbs’ house was set back from a busy road, adding: “There is a large garden at the front with a wired gate.

“When test purchases were made hens could be seen running around the garden. There was a table with an honesty box and a sign saying: ‘Eggs £2.20 a dozen’. Buying battery eggs cost £1.30 a dozen.

“An investigation began following a complaint that the Hobbs were selling too many eggs to have been laid by their own hens.”

Trading standards officers seized four dozen eggs which were examined by a marketing inspector who discovered the producer code stamp had been removed.

Retired engineer Mr Hobbs later admitted purchasing 12,000 eggs from a North Dorset poultry farm. He refused to reveal his supplier’s name, stating that the eggs sold at his gate had been a mix of his own and factory farmed eggs.

Defending, Terrence Scanlon, stressed that his clients were of previous good character, adding: “They are very shocked to find themselves in this position.”

He told the court that the Hobbs’ egg sales had not been “a profit-making enterprise” and the proceeds had funded chicken feed.

Mr Scanlon said: “Last summer their chickens went off laying; it is quite likely a fox was involved and Mr Hobbs arranged for the supply of two to three trays of eggs a week. They used them and also sold them; they did not know the regulations or what they were doing was illegal.”

District Judge Steven Nicholls ordered the Hobbs, who refused to comment, to pay £1,178 costs.

Speaking after the case, Dorset Trading Standards services manager Ivan Hancock said: “Many consumers choose to buy from local outlets to support local producers and particular methods of farming of production.

“Anyone misleading customers undermines that choice and abuses that trust.

“Food and drink retailers need to be cautious about what they are selling.

“Any business buying stock from an untraceable source is not thinking responsibly about the safety of their customers.”