A Shropshire poultry slaughterhouse is being prosecuted over claims that three chickens were put in a scalding tank while still alive.

Highbury Poultry Farm Produce Ltd kills an average of 75,000 chickens daily, or 19.5 million a year, at its Whitchurch plant.

Birds are tagged, stunned, bled and finally scalded, London's High Court heard.

But the company is facing accusations that, on three dates in 2016, birds reached the scalding tank when still alive because their throats had not been properly cut.

And now the company is being prosecuted for alleged offences under the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations 2015.

Highbury Poultry faces claims that the birds endured 'avoidable pain, distress or suffering' before they died.

That was because their carotid arteries had not been fully severed and they had not been 'bled out' before being put in the scalding tank.

Stephen Hockman QC, for the company, said it was not claimed that Highbury Poultry was guilty of any 'systemic failures'.

The company vigilantly followed the rules and the 'lapses' were down to "understandable human error which could occur in even the best run system".

However, after a preliminary hearing at Kidderminster Magistrates Court last year, a judge ruled that prosecutors did not have to prove that the company had a 'guilty mind'.

Highbury Poultry challenged that ruling at the High Court, arguing that the judge misinterpreted the law.

But Mr Justice Jay said the offences alleged were ones of 'strict liability' and involved no mental element.

All prosecutors had to prove was that the regulations were breached and the company's state of knowledge, and even its blameworthiness, were irrelevant.

The case was sent back to the magistrates court for the criminal trial to continue.