Matthew Butler, owner of Muddy Pig Butchers, at 29 Cross Street, Willenhall, pleaded guilty on February 18 at Dudley Magistrates Court to the ‘fraudulent use of a scale’ and of ‘selling short weight meat’.
He was ordered to pay costs totalling £1,798 and given an 18-month community order of 200 hours of unpaid work.
The court was presented with evidence that Mr Butler had altered his scales deliberately to give a false impression of the weight of produce that was being sold.
The court also heard that complaints about this ‘sharp practice’ were made to Walsall Council in 2019.
Undercover Trading Standards officers had then visited the shop on two separate occasions in October and November of that year. Each time they were sold stewing steak, that was 40 grams short of the weight they had asked for.
During a second visit Trading Standards officers announced themselves and asked to examine Mr Butler’s business scales – which were seized.
Photographic evidence produced in court showed that coins had been stuck on to the scale mechanism.
The coins were the equivalent of 40 grams in weight, therefore every time the scale was used customers received 40g less of produce than they had ordered and were being systematically overcharged.
When officers removed the coins and tested the shop scale, they found that it was in fact accurate, and they could see no reason for the presence of the coins other than to defraud customers.
In mitigation, the judge heard that Mr Butler’s business was burgled in early September 2019. During this time stock was stolen and significant damage was caused to the inside of his premises - this included his shop scales which were knocked on to the floor.
The court heard that when Mr Butler realised his scales were damaged he tried "experimenting" with them in order to get them to read satisfactorily - and it was for this reason that he added the ballast.
Councillor Garry Perry, deputy leader and portfolio holder for regulatory services at Walsall Council, said: “This is a significant case and I’m very pleased that Trading Standards vigorously pursued it, and the judge has supported our prosecution case.
"It was without doubt deliberate fraud and cynically geared towards fleecing vulnerable, as well as low income and often, elderly shoppers. It is a sad truth that while loyal customers were supporting this butcher’s business with their custom and in good faith, he was cheating them.
“Just by using this set of dodgy scales within the two-month period of our initial investigations, meant that many customers would have been overcharged by roughly 30p per item. Anyone buying three or more items in one go, would be losing £1 for every shopping trip made - and that’s just one person.
"As the judge ordered, it is only right that those customers cheated in this way, are compensated by way of his community and compensation order. Mr Butler must therefore give back to the community from which he has taken.”