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MELTON MOWBRAY PORK PIES COURT RULING

The pork pie-makers of Melton Mowbray were celebrating today after a top judge's ruling opened the way for them to apply to Europe for the same sort of exclusivity enjoyed by champagne.

The Government is backing the Leicestershire town in its bid to protect the area's unique pork pie recipe and create an 1,800-mile zone where Melton Mowbray pies can exclusively be made.

The Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association is in the process of seeking protected status from the European Commission but a High Court challenge by food manufacturing giants - Northern Foods Plc - had until today stood in the path of its aspirations to join the culinary elite.

Today, Mr Justice Crane dismissed Northern Foods' judicial review challenge, opening the door to Europe for the jubilant Melton Mowbray pie makers.

However, the judge's ruling could spell catastrophe for hundreds of workers at Northern Foods' factories in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and Market Drayton, Shropshire, where making of "Melton Mowbray" pork pies could be outlawed if the Leicestershire original is given protected "regional food" status.

The Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association has enlisted the support of the Department of Food and Rural Affairs in its battle to stop other manufacturers using the town's name and reputation to sell pies lacking the correct ingredients and not made in the Melton area.

The Association wants the same kind of "regional foods" protection enjoyed by Champagne and Stilton Cheese and is seeking an 1,800 square mile zone around Melton Mowbray in which pork pies can exlusively be made to the traditional recipe.

The Melton Mowbray pork pie market is worth £50 million-a-year and the Pork Pie Association says the High Court case could prove a milestone for British regional foods, including Cornish Pasties, Cumberland Sausages and Yorkshire Rhubarb.

Hull-based Northern Foods challenged DEFRA's stance, saying authentic Melton Mowbray pies have been produced far from Leicestershire for over 100 years and complaining of "the artificial nature" of the proposed 1,800 square mile zone.

The company argued that geographical restrictions on the manufacture of Melton Mowbray pork pies would be an unwarranted restriction on consumer choice.

If the Pork Pie Association's application to the European Commission ultimately succeeds, it would be an offence to sell a Melton Mowbray pork pie not made to the right recipe, without the correct ingredients and outside the protected zone.

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SIR TOM HUNTER IN GADGET SHOP COURT VICTORY

An "entirely honest" Sir Tom Hunter was today cleared by a High Court judge of ripping off a fellow businessman over the purchase of greetings card chain Birthdays

Sir Tom and fellow entrepreneur Chris Gorman were sued for £100million by Peter Wilkinson over the August 2003 sale of Birthdays to Sir Tom's investment vehicle West Coast Capital (WCC).

All three were involved in retail chain The New Gadget Shop Limited (NGS), which owned The Gadget Shop, and Mr Wilkinson claimed he was "promised" NGS could buy Birthdays until the £60million acquisition was "switched" at the last minute to WCC in August 2003.

Hull City FC owner Mr Wilkinson alleged Sir Tom had given his word that NGS could do the deal, and said the combined companies would have been worth between £200 and £300 million.

Supported in his action by UBS banker Jonathan Wood, Mr Wilkinson blamed Sir Tom and Mr Gorman for missing out on the opportunity.

But today Mr Justice Warren said there had never been any promise made that NGS could purchase Birthdays, and dismissed Mr Wilkinson's claim, leaving him facing a massive legal costs bill.

Describing Sir Tom as an "entirely honest" witness, the judge added that he did not think Mr Wilkinson was "deliberately lying" about what went on but concluded he did not have the correct recollection of events.

And he added that Mr Wood was "unreliable", "evasive" and a "very hard and calculating man".

During the lengthy High Court trial Mr Justice Warren was told Mr Gorman, Sir Tom, Mr Wilkinson and Mr Wood worked together at NGS

Sir Tom was brought into NGS when the company was in financial trouble in April 2002 and about to go into administration, but Mr Wilkinson - the founder of Freeserve - claimed he had tried to "chip away" at his shareholding

It was Mr Wilkinson's case that Sir Tom and Mr Gorman promised that NGS could buy Birthdays on a number of occasions in the summer of 2003, but they vigrously denied the allegation.

Mr Wood had claimed Sir Tom had made such a promise in the Amber Lounge nightclub in Monaco, shortly after the Monaco Grand Prix and on another occasion at his holiday home in the South of France in July 2003.

In August 2003 Birthdays was bought out, but by West Coast Capital after Sir Tom said he couldn't strike a deal with Mr Wilkinson and Mr Wood on behalf of NGS.

Sir Tom maintained that he had heard independently of NGS that there was a chance to buy Birthdays, and insisted there was no obligation to do a deal with the Gadget Shop.

"I find there was no agreement on August 20, 2003 that NGS would acquire Birthdays," said the judge. "I would add this in relation to the suggestions, which I have already rejected, that there were such agreements in June and July."

Mr Justice Warren was also told Sir Tom and Mr Gorman - who received an OBE for services to business from the Queen during the trial - made a number of offers to Mr Wilkinson during the course of 2004 in an attempt to settle the case.

In March, Sir Tom gave Mr Wilkinson the opportunity to purchase his shares in both NGS and Birthdays for between £75million and £100million - half the price it was claimed they were worth.

He added that Sir Tom's alternative offer was that he would buy out Mr Wilkinson's shares in NGS "at a fair market price" set by an independent valuer.

Both of the offers - and others - were rejected, and because of that Mr Wilkinson faces an application by Sir Tom's lawyers that he pays legal costs at a higher rate than usual.

After being sold to WCC and Mr Gorman for £60million, Birthdays did not prove a success and was sold on to Clinton Cards at a £5million loss. Gadget Shop collapsed this year, costing 750 people their jobs.

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