A BIO-sciences firm in Trafford has been fined over bringing bird flu samples into the UK without the proper licences.

An investigation was launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after samples of infectious avian influenza and West Nile virus were imported by Altrincham-based Thermo Electron, which trades as Fisher BioServices.

HSE officials say the transportation of such biological agents into the UK is tightly-controlled.

An inquiry discovered that the Ashley Road enterprise had been bringing the strains into this country without the necessary permissions between April 2016 and February 2018.

Chelmsford magistrates heard that the alarm was first raised at Fisher BioServices' site in Bishop Stortford over the nature of what was being handled there.

The court was told that each of the two biological agents required a specific licence under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 (SAPO).

Further enquiries determined that no such SAPO authorisation had been secured and a prosecution was mounted.

Representatives on behalf of Thermo Electron Ltd admitted to two breaches of Section 73(a) of the Animal Health Act 1981 and the firm was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £80,000.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE specialist inspector Dr David Johnson said: “The use of high hazard animal pathogens is tightly regulated in the UK to ensure that exotic animal diseases such as avian influenza, are not introduced which could threaten the UK livestock economy.

"The licensing regime enables HSE to authorise possession of such agents and requires the implementation of strict conditions for those wanting to conduct work with specified animal pathogens.

"Companies like the defendant contribute to critical scientific research and in vast majority of cases the sector complies with the understandably stringent regulations in place.

"However, as soon as Thermo Electron Ltd became aware it didn’t have the appropriate licence, immediate steps could have been taken including safely destroying the material, returning it to the sender, or transferring it to an appropriately licensed site.

"There are lessons to be learnt here and we'd ask those involved in the biosciences sector to take note of this case."

The Altrincham firm is part of a major international concern which specialises in the likes of gene sequencing, DNA analysis, cell structures, cloning and synthetic biology.

One of their most recent American deals saw them acquire a rival viral vectors producer for $1.2billion.