A CONVENIENCE store which had bread on its shelves that had been nibbled by rats has been fined more than £35,000.

An environmental health officer from Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council found loaves of bread on the shelves, at the One Stop shop, in High Street, Overton, which had been partially eaten by the vermin.

The officer, Nicola Ramsay, also found evidence that the rodents were living in the cellar and an empty staff flat above the shop.

Prosecutor Caroline Maxfield said that the shop was visited by the environmental health officer following reports from members of the public about the state of the shop, owned by One Stop Stores Ltd.

Basingstoke magistrates heard that on her first visit to the shop in October last year, Ms Ramsay was told by a shop supervisor that evidence of rats had been found on the shop's floor and stock had been damaged.

Ms Ramsay found a total of 15 pest contractor reports, showing that they had visited the premises and had recommended that action was taken.

She also found large holes in the wall behind the reduced stock stand and behind the bread shelves. There were rat runs to the side of the building and the back yard was found to be harbouring the vermin.

The stockroom was filthy and was littered with out-of-date stock, showing that it had not been cleaned for a long time.

Mrs Maxfield told the court: "Ms Ramsay was shocked by the amount of food debris on the floor below the shelving, including sweets and biscuits and a Cadbury chocolate bar with a best-before date of June 6.

"The officer comments that in her eight-and-a-half years of working for the council, she had never seen pest control records indicating a continuing rat problem that were repeatedly ignored."

Ms Ramsay returned to the premises on November 1 but on arrival was told that three loaves of bread had needed to be removed that morning as they had been partly eaten by rats.

When she visited again the following day, with another officer, she found the same situation.

The shop's management was then asked to close the premises on a voluntary basis, so the problems could be resolved.

The shop was closed on November 2 and reopened two days later. It finally closed in the second week of April this year and has remained that way since then.

The company, which has its headquarters in Apex Road, Brownhills, in the West Midlands, and has 500 branches across the UK, pleaded guilty to five counts of breaching food hygiene regulations.

In mitigation, Mark Watson, defending, said: "The company apologises publicly for the state of affairs that has led to this prosecution.

"The conditions in the shop were unacceptable and should not have been allowed to exist."

He said area managers had not relayed information about the pest control reports and added that a number of new procedures had been put in place to make sure this situation doesn't happen again.

Ian Wigginton, chairman of the bench, said: "One Stop ignored the advice of both its pest and maintenance contractors on numerous occasions.

"We also believe that One Stop corporately must be held responsible for the lack of competence of its management - the company has to carry the can for the actions of those below it."

One Stop Stores Ltd was fined £36,000 for the five charges of breaching food hygiene regulations and ordered to pay a further £5,215 in court costs.

After the hearing, Karen Brimacombe, corporate director at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, said: "This highlights that the council will not hesitate to take legal action against businesses that put the health of local residents at risk."