A SWEETCORN farmer who admitted spraying his crops with illegal pesticides before selling them to supermarkets was yesterday fined #220,000.

Colin Boswell, 47, of Mersley Farms, in Newchurch, on the Isle of Wight, was one of Britain's biggest sweetcorn producers and sold to Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, and other supermarkets.

But in June this year he admitted 11 breaches of health and safety law after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.

At Portsmouth Crown Court yesterday, Boswell was fined #20,000 for each of the breaches and was ordered to pay costs of #16,862.

Judge David Selwood said that if the fines were not paid within 14 days then a three-year prison sentence could be imposed.

He said: ''They are serious offences involving a course of conduct prolonged for a period of two years, demonstrating a disregard for health and safety.''

Portsmouth Crown Court heard that Liquid Gaucho, Aztec, and Capsolane were sprayed on crops at the 850-acre farm. None has UK approval for such use.

Oba Nsugbe, for the Health and Safety Executive, said the organo-phosphate pesticide Metaphor had been used before it was licensed for use in Britain. He said a ''cocktail of pesticides'' had been applied to the sweetcorn which was then sold for human consumption to customers, including those of Tesco.

Boswell, 47, had previously admitted breaching the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 and the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986.

The charges relate to the sweetcorn-growing seasons of 1997 and 1998.

Mr Nsugbe said there had been a reckless disregard for the health of employees and said the records of pesticide-spraying at the farm had not shown the use of the illegal chemicals.

The court heard that an aphid infestation in 1997 had threatened to wreck 40% of the crop on the 900-acre farm, which would have lost Boswell about #180,000 in profit.

The nerve toxin Metaphor was used and employees were then sent in to pick the crop with bare hands just two or three days later.

By 1998, Metaphor was unavailable so Capsolane, Aztec and Liquid Gaucho were used on the crops.

The ''systematic abuse of pesticides'' only came to light when two former employees, Leonard Oatley and Peter Kingswell, decided to act as whistle-blowers, Mr Nsugbe said.