A judge has slashed the fines imposed on a Leamington juice bar and its owner for making bogus or unsubstantiated claims for the health benefits of its drinks.
Among claims made at the Pure and Raw juice bar in Regent Street and on its website were that some of its foods could treat cancer, protect against heart disease, and lower blood pressure.
Pure and Raw and its director Ravinder Aujla had both pleaded guilty in August to 12 charges of breaching regulations under the Nutrition and Health Claims regulations.
Magistrates fined the juice bar £500 for each offence, a total of £6,000 plus a £50 surcharge.
Aujla (51) also of Regent Street, Leamington, was fined £200 for each offence, a total of £2,400 – but was also ordered to pay the £2,022.57 costs of the case and a £30 surcharge.
But at Warwick Crown Court both Aujla and her business successfully appealed against the amount of the fines after her barrister said the company was ‘in a perilous position’.
Judge Anthony Potter, sitting with two magistrates, cut Pure and Raw’s fines to a total of £3,000 and Aujla’s to £1,000 – on top of which she will still have to pay the original costs.
Prosecutor William Douglas-Jones said the guilty pleas to offences under the Nutrition and Health Claims regulations had been entered by Aujla both for herself and in her capacity as a director of Pure and Raw.
He explained that the charges related to claims made at the Pure and Raw premises and on its website about the supposed health benefits of various ‘superfoods.’
Among the unauthorised claims made were that beetroot ‘helps treat fever and skin problems and lowers blood pressure’ and that bee pollen ‘prevents the onset of asthma.’
It was also claimed that ginger could treat ovarian cancer, flax oil helps to fight breast cancer, cacao lowers blood pressure, goji berries protect against heart disease, and kale has anti-depressant and anti-cancer benefits.
Judge Potter observed that Warwickshire Trading Standards officers had first tried to encourage Aujla to alter the claims at the juice bar, where it was claimed ‘Our food is your medicine.’
That had no effect, and nor did a warning that if changes to the claims were not made by a particular date, a prosecution would follow – so Pure and Raw and Aujla were then charged.
Ekwall Tiwana, defending, said Aujla had had an arranged marriage, and for 20 years worked in the administration department of the business run by her husband, who was ‘a very dominant and controlling person’.
Prior to 2014 she suffered health problems including coeliac disease and respiratory problems which had necessitated many stays in hospital, biopsies and other operations.
She went on a diet which included going gluten-free, and that assisted her a great deal – and she then set up Pure and Raw as her own project to provide health foods.
Her husband lent her the money to do so, but then started to ‘put his foot in the business’, including taking over the marketing side of the website and making the health claims.
Aujla ‘felt she was being overpowered and dominated by this man’, but because it was her business, she was responsible – and although she had wanted to engage with Trading Standards, her husband was sending emails to them, leaving her side-lined.
Mr Tiwana said: “She was passionate about this shop. She set it up to help others in the same position as her. She has now hired a food and hygiene consultant.”
Handing in the latest accounts, he said they showed the business, which employs five people part-time, was ‘in a perilous position’ and may have to close if the fines remained so high.
Reducing the fines, Judge Potter said: “The regulations are clearly there to protect the public, particularly people who have serious illnesses who may be considered susceptible to claims made by companies to the rejuvenating properties of items.
“Some of the claims made on the website and at the premises were on any view misleading. The real harm is to people suffering from serious ailments who might have been susceptible to the claims.”
But he said Aujla’s husband had been ‘a malign influence’ on her in the running of the company.
And he added that, in reducing the fines, they had also taken account of the ‘double jeopardy’ of Aujla and the company being ‘one and the same’.