The boss of Northern Ireland's largest cinema chain has told of his personal devastation that a restaurant owned by his company caused a massive food poisoning outbreak.
Moviehouse Cinema Ltd was yesterday fined a total of £110,000 for causing an E.coli outbreak in 2012 at former restaurant, Flicks.
Judge Gordon Kerr QC said the restaurant showed a "blatant disregard for the food safety standards and, therefore, for the safety of its customers".
The Belfast Crown Court judge added that he considered the actions showed "the company were reckless as to the health and safety of their customers".
He said that while the actual location of the E.coli outbreak was not uncovered and no traces were found in Flicks, by the guilty pleas the company accepted "they were the source of the contamination".
Speaking following the fine which was imposed at Belfast Crown Court, Michael McAdam, the managing director of Moviehouse Cinemas, said: "I would just like to take this opportunity, once again, to say how deeply sorry I am to anyone who fell ill as a result of eating at Flicks Restaurant.
"I am personally devastated that any business of mine could have caused people to become ill.
"The company fully accepts the penalty imposed by the court. We have always taken public health and safety very seriously. I believe at the time that we were in compliance with all the requirements - but that has shown not to have been the case.
"We have implemented stringent and additional new checks and balances and have improved training across all the company.
"Flicks restaurant was managed and staffed separately from any of our others businesses. We will not be reopening Flicks Restaurant."
Last month, Mr McAdam pleaded guilty to a total of 11 separate food hygiene breaches, on behalf of the restaurant, which voluntarily closed two days after a second outbreak emerged.
The restaurant's failings included ensuring that food handlers were supervised, trained and instructed, that foods were protected from E.coli contamination, ensuring that staff toilets were kept clean, and that food was kept at a temperature which prevented the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms or the formulation of toxins.
Judge Kerr said he considered the culpability of company was high as there was no relevant training given to staff, and what training there was was not appropraite, and that no checks were made on members of agency staff.
E.coli, he said, had the potential of causing death or serious injury to vulnerable customers, such as pregnant women and children, and that during the outbreak two customers were taken seriously ill, 44 others attended hospital, of which 16 were admitted.
Earlier this month the court heard that Flicks was at the centre of two outbtreaks of E.coli in 2012 - one in August, which affected four people, and a second outbreak was detected in October where there were 141 confirmed cases. Two of the cases were members of staff who tested positive.
A Crown prosecutor said that while all the physical effects for those who contracted E.coli - such as severe stomach pain and chronic diarrhoea - were overcome within around a week, some victims have been left with anxiety about eating out. One customer included a woman who has just undergone a kidney transplant.
During several inspections at the restaurant, facilities in the staff toilet were found to be inadequate, as there were no soap or drying facilities for handwashing, and a basin which couldn't be used as it obstructed with other items.
Other shortcomings included that the restaurant was operating at a time using only one meat probe, that prepared ready-to-eat lettuce was found on the floor of the walk-in chiller directly below a container of fresh raw eggs, and that cling film used to wrap raw products was stored with that for wrapping ready-to-eat products.
It also emerged in court that while the source of the outbreaks have never been determined, it may be linked to a chef who was sent home with diarrhoea and who returned to work when he may not have been fit to return. Another source may have been from chopped parsley that was brought into the kitchen and not kept at the correct temperature.
A defence barrister said the company had been operating since 1990, has several premises across Northern Ireland and has a "clear record without any difficulties".
He also said that Flicks was run by a manageress with more than 20 years' catering experience, and the chefs had relevant qualifications and came from agencies.
The barrister said that 80 civil cases have been settled amounting to around £340,000, with the payments ranging between £3,000 and £12,000. A further 20 to 30 cases remain outstanding.
The lawyer said while Flicks "will not open again", Mr McAdam had retained the consulting services of an independent hygiene company, inspections take place on a regular basis and "there have been no further problems".