Slug was ‘planted’: whistleblower

A picture of the slug as submitted by City of Greater Dandenong to the Parliamentary inquiry into I Cook Foods' closure.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A whistle-blower witnessed Greater Dandenong officers “doctoring” a photo of a slug as they prepared charges against I Cook Foods, a Parliamentary inquiry has heard on 25 August.

Former Greater Dandenong food inspector Kim Rogerson was asked if Greater Dandenong officers planted the slug – which was photographed on the ICF kitchen floor during an inspection in February 2019.

“Yes,” she said.

Days later, ICF was closed by health authorities as part of an investigation into a hospital patient’s death.

The inquiry is examining ICF’s “inappropriate” closure, after evidence emerged that the patient did not eat ICF products.

Ms Rogerson told the inquiry she was “horrified” that environmental health officer Elizabeth Garlick and co-ordinator Leanne Johnson changed and doctored photos and body cam footage.

In an excerpt of her statement to Victoria Police, she described the pair speaking softly in apparently “sneaky” and “suspicious” fashion as they prepared a prosecution brief against ICF.

On Ms Garlick’s computer screen was an image of a slug and tissue paper on a floor taken during the inspection.

A red circle encompassed the tissue, as if it was to be edited, Ms Rogerson said.

Ms Johnson allegedly told Ms Rogerson they were “just cleaning up and removing personal conversations”.

The final photograph submitted did not have tissue paper.

It was part of an “over the top” and “unfair” targeting of ICF, Ms Rogerson said.

“It was as if they were given directions to follow.”

She said she knew Ms Garlick would deliberately take “close-up” photos and “blow them up” to misrepresent the condition of ICF’s kitchen.

Photos of broken equipment about to be thrown-out such as knives and whisks were also used to create a charge.

This was “standard criminal behaviour that I was exposed to”, she said.

Alleged “pooling of water” was photographed during a wash-down of the kitchen floor.

Ms Garlick and Ms Johnson’s actions were “central” to the “alleged crimes” by ICF.

All 96 charges were eventually dropped by the council, as ICF alleged the council’s evidence was fabricated.

The council has argued it dropped the charges to avoid a potential $1.2 million legal bill.

Ms Rogerson said the council “turned” on her when she refused to help it “illegally frame” ICF.

She said the then planning and compliance manager Greg Spicer asked her to “lie” in her sworn statement “designed to destroy the Cooks”.

Her statement alludes to an alleged prior meeting and conversation with ICF’s Ben Cook that never happened, she said.

She signed the statement contributed to by “others” out of fear of being sacked. She was asked to rewrite sections allegedly written by Mr Spicer into her own words.

Ms Rogerson said she was shocked by some of the “lies” told by her former colleagues and superiors in the first round of the inquiry in 2020.

Some of the “lies” were “designed to smear me” and “cover up their crimes”, she told the inquiry.

“After they destroyed my career and big parts of my life, they then come into Parliament and did everything to destroy my good name.”

Ms Rogerson said she only now, two years after the event, she felt safe to say that the council “operates under a culture of corruption and bullying”.

During her earlier evidence to the inquiry in 2020, she was “scared” to describe all she knew.

For several years, Ms Rogerson had been inspecting the factory. She’d collected the first listeria samples and swabbing of surfaces on 1 February as part of the patient-death investigation.

She was on leave during Ms Johnson and Ms Garlick’s inspection.

Ms Rogerson has been in a protracted Work Cover claim, which she says the council has been opposing for the past two years.

Greater Dandenong officers Ms Garlick, Leanne Johnson and chief executive John Bennie are expected to re-appear at the inquiry on 1 September.

A council spokesperson said: “Council vehemently denies what is alleged, and looks forward to being able to refute that allegation when it presents to the Parliamentary Committee next week.”