Nearly half the guests at a pensioners' farewell dinner became ill after eating contaminated chicken, a court heard.

Thirty-one of the 70 former Gatwick employees developed salmonella and were ill for up to three weeks following the meal at the former Beehive sports and social club, Gatwick, in February last year.

At Crawley Magistrates Court former caterer Hilary Arney, 52, of Seddon Court, Broadfield, Crawley, was fined a total of £1,000 after she admitted two offences under the Food Safety Act.

She admitted selling chicken contaminated with salmonella and failing to conduct a hazard analysis of food preparation and the kitchen at the Beehive club.

Prosecuting for Crawley Borough Council, James Pretsell said the food poisoning outbreak occurred after an over-60s farewell dinner for British Airports Authority employees at Gatwick.

Arney was the caterer at the club, where she ran Hilary's Pantry.

Samples of left-over chicken breast and chicken curry were analysed and found to be infected with salmonella.

As a result the council sent questionnaires to all the guests asking for details of symptoms.

Mr Pretsell said: "Environmental health officers deemed the salmonella poisoning outbreak was caused by the chicken not being cooked sufficiently all the way through to eradicate salmonella.

"The oven being used was a domestic one and more likely not to cook the chicken through in the same way as would an industrial oven."

He said officers found there was cross-contamination in the fridge where the chicken had infected gammon.

Mr Pretsell told magistrates the 31 pensioners suffered severe diarrhoea and vomiting and needed bed rest.

None needed hospital treatment but recovery was two to three weeks.

Nicholas Rapley, defending, said Arney had been in the catering business for 20 years, the last ten working at the Beehive, without any trouble.

Since she had taken over the catering the club had flourished and become a popular place for employees to have a meal.

He said: "The most stressing thing for Mrs Arney was that this was the last significant dinner before the club closed and it is now no longer in existence."

He said she knew 99 per cent of the people who attended the dinner and most had been supportive.

She was no longer in the catering trade and her confidence had taken such a knock she felt nervous cooking for her family.