Council at center of Melbourne restoration controversy breaks silence on slug saga

Melbourne Suburban Council, at the center of a controversial closure of a family catering business, has branded claims that its closure was baseless a “wicked and hurtful conspiracy theory”.

Earlier this month Victoria Police closed an investigation into the 2019 closure of I Cook Foods, but the saga is far from over, with a high-stakes Supreme Court battle set to begin in the end of the month.

The business was shut down by acting health director Brett Sutton after it was linked to the death of an elderly woman with listeria and other suspected health conditions.

Owner Ian Cook has always maintained his innocence and even accused city inspectors of planting a slug in his kitchen in Dandenong South.

Charges against him and the company were dropped before they went to court.

Throughout the saga, the Greater Dandenong Council has made little public comment, despite the serious allegations made against it.

In a recent message to council staff, chief executive John Bennie said there had been “libelous and defamatory” comments about council officers.

Mr Bennie said the complaints had had a huge impact on the health and well-being of staff and had been “incredibly distressing for all of us”.

“There was no cover-up, no false information and no misleading documentation,” he said.

“So let’s call it what it really is – a series of baseless claims centered around a nasty and hurtful conspiracy theory.”

Mr Cook dismissed that characterization, telling the ABC that calling it “a hate conspiracy is just plain wrong”.

I Cook Foods managing director Ian Cook (left) and the company’s production manager Michael Cook (right).(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Mr Cook is suing the council and the health department for $50million in damages for shutting down his business. Top QC Robert Richter represents the family.

Two retired police officers worked with Mr Cook and alleged the process was corrupt.

The council was a shareholder in a rival company, Community Chef, which has since been sold to Western Health.

The police investigation was closed at the beginning of the month

An initial police investigation into the closure found nothing, but after allegations that the investigation was not conducted properly, it was reopened by Chief Commissioner Shane Patton.

Earlier this month Victoria Police said the case was now closed.

Dandenong council fights body camera audio release in legal battle with I Cook Foods
The body camera audio was at the center of a legal battle between I Cook Foods and a Melbourne council.(News video)

“As part of the investigation, police obtained additional witness statements, executed four search warrants, seized emails, images and records, forensically examined items, sought the opinion of an expert entomologist and interviewed a person of interest,” the statement read.

“After reviewing the new evidence, Victoria Police can confirm that no criminal action has been detected.”

Mr Cook said the police failed to carry out a proper investigation and claimed his civil case would shed more light on the controversial closure.

“Everything they did raised more questions than answers,” Mr Cook said.

“People will be embarrassed when this all comes out.”

The Department of Health said it welcomed the outcome of the police investigation.

About Erick Miles

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