A POPULAR Hampshire pub was forced to close its doors after food safety experts discovered a kitchen infested with rats, a court heard.

Bosses at The Red Shoot Inn, in the New Forest, shut down temporarily after inspectors found rat droppings in the kitchen during a routine spot-check.

Closer inspection of the venue in Toms Lane, Linwood, found that rats had gnawed potatoes, which had been stored in a cardboard box on the floor of the kitchen.

Evidence of “rodent activity” was also uncovered in an outside bottle storage shed, where it was found that drinks were not properly protected against potential pest contamination.

The pub’s operator, Wadworth and Company Ltd, closed the site following the damning inspection by New Forest District Council in May.

It has since re-opened after health officers were convinced that the premises had been adequately pest proofed and that any direct risk to the public had been removed.

A representative from Wadworth and Company Ltd, based in Devizes, Wiltshire, pleaded guilty to five food hygiene offences at Southampton Magistrates’ Court.

In sentencing the firm, magistrates said it had failed to follow its own food safety procedures and had they done so, the rat infestation could have been avoided.

Magistrates added that the offences posed a “serious health risk to the public” and fined the firm a total of £10,000 – £2,000 for each of the five charges.

The company was also ordered to pay £3,746 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

New Forest District Council’s environment boss Cllr Edward Heron said: “It is totally unacceptable to allow rats into a food business

“Environmental health officers took appropriate action to protect public health and I am pleased the serious nature of this offence was confirmed by the court.”