“Dead mouse found in malt loaf”: accident or sabotage?

Imagine the shock of the unnamed man from North Antrim. Back in 2007, he bought a malt loaf from a local supermarket. When he unwrapped it later, the body of a dead mouse was baked into the bread.

MD Jean Hyndman claimed in court this week that her bakery had been a victim of sabotage. She produced proof that the firm conducted "onerous" inspections at the bakery every six weeks, with two field biologists sweeping the premises each year. At the time the mouse got into the pre-oiled malt loaf tins, there were 131 bait stations dotted around the bakery.

Hyndman’s claims of foul play got Real Business thinking: how many of you have been victims of the same "dead mouse in malt loaf"-style sabotage?

Helen Winder, founder of Office Helper, launched her outsourced business support firm in 2004. After battling kidney stones and cancer, she was forced to take time out from the business in 2008 to recover. When she returned, she found that all was not well in Office Helper.

"People became very distant and an atmosphere had developed," she recalls. "My husband and I could not pinpoint what was happening. In spite of this, work was flowing in and we were on target for a record turnover month. Then it happened – an employee resigned.

"To be honest we weren’t really surprised," she continues. "Written notice was given on the Monday and by the Wednesday I had noticed that they were conducting their own business. I felt very uncomfortable and my instinct was telling me to be careful and to watch out. This person was asked to leave the same day. Things seemed to remain very difficult for the rest of that week. Friday evening, my instinct really kicked in and something warned me that we were dealing with something more serious. I went back to the office and started to work though correspondence between a number of employees. I was horrified at what found. Monday morning came and further employees handed in their notice – again we were not surprised."

A key member of staff had been systematically poaching both staff and clients from the business during Winder’s absence. Copying the Office Helper business model, they set up a rival agency.

"Within an instant my monthly turnover was down to the tune of £8,000," she says. "At the same time I was told that they had been spreading the most damaging and humiliating rumours about my health to staff and clients. I had uncovered a complete sabotage attempt on my dream."

Winder is currently pursuing legal action against this rival company. She has recouped some turnover: monthly revenues currently stand at £12,000 per month. But a whole division has been lost. D Hyndman and Son only lost £1,000 plus damages for their dead mouse in a malt tin. But for some businesses, the repurcussions can be fatal.Have you been a victim of business sabotage? Add your comment below, or email us your story at editors@realbusiness.co.uk.

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