Vic health department ‘omitted’ evidence in critical I Cook Foods inquiry, report finds

Rhiannon TuffieldNCA NewsWire
I Cook Foods is suing for $26m, its owners claiming they were destroyed by ‘cooked up’ evidence. David Caird
Camera IconI Cook Foods is suing for $26m, its owners claiming they were destroyed by ‘cooked up’ evidence. David Caird Credit: News Corp Australia

Victoria’s health department ‘omitted’ evidence from a critical inquiry examining if officials breached laws around the controversial forced closure of Melbourne catering company I Cook Foods, a parliamentary report has found.

The inquiry’s final report, tabled overnight, has been heavily criticised by those close to the case amid an ongoing court battle.

I Cook Foods was closed in 2019 after an elderly woman died in Knox Private hospital, which the caterer supplied, with listeriosis suspected as a contributing factor in her death.

Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton signed the closure order in 2019, connecting the woman’s death to sandwiches provided by the caterer.

The inquiry was reopened on June 24, 2021 after fresh allegations raised in the media conflicted with evidence received during the inquiry’s initial investigations.

They alleged DHHS official did not have adequate evidence to close the caterer and Dandenong Council officers working on the case doctored evidence as part of a conspiracy to close down the business.

Hearings held over the past few months heard from new witnesses and examined if there were any contradictions in prior evidence.

But a final report tabled in parliament overnight found the inquiry’s previous findings and recommendations were still valid.

“The committee has found that while Department of Health officials didn’t deliberately mislead the committee, the omission of some evidence ultimately led to the reopening of the inquiry,” committee chair Fiona Patten said.

“However, the new evidence did raise further issues with the processes used by the Department of Health during its investigation into the listeriosis case at Knox Private Hospital.”

Cooking business closed this year claims evidence planted
Camera IconI Cook Foods is suing for $26m, its owners claiming they were destroyed by ‘cooked up’ evidence. David Caird Credit: News Corp Australia

I Cook Foods co-owner Ben Cook blasted the final report.

Mr Cook this year spoke out about the investigation, insisting there had been contradictions, cover-ups and conspiracy connected to the closure.

He maintained proper processes and laws weren’t followed when his family’s business was shut down.

Mr Cook slammed the majority report, saying: “If you want to know the truth read the minority report at the very end of the report.”

The majority report found that the department’s omission of providing emails from the Knox Hospital for the investigation led to contradictions and confusion, and the health department officers did not communicate key evidence into the source of listeria.

It also found evidence provided to the inquiry by Professor Sutton and deputy chief health officer Angie Bone failed to provide complete information that explained why other providers weren’t adequately investigated before the closure.

SLUG TRUCK
Camera IconThe inquiry found vital evidence was omitted from the investigation. NCA NewsWire / Paul Jeffers Credit: News Corp Australia

It handed down five recommendations, including that the department improve food safety investigations and reporting mechanisms.

Liberals Georgie Crozier, Wendy Lovell and Matthew Bach signed the minority report and said they did not agree with several findings.

The Liberals said Professor Sutton had justified his decision to close the business on a small number of grounds despite no other patients in the hospital contracting listeria.

They said the business was shut down before all investigatory information had been received by the department, and Professor Sutton and Dr Bone failed to provide complete information as part of the listeriosis investigation.

“We recommend that an agency external to government, with investigative powers, consider further examination of the serious allegations of impropriety by environmental health officers of the City of Greater Dandenong Council and evidence provided to the Department of Health,” they wrote.

A court battle into the case remains ongoing.

rhiannon.tuffield@news.com.au

Originally published as Vic health department ‘omitted’ evidence in critical I Cook Foods inquiry, report finds

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