A TATTOOIST and piercer whose poor practices at his Newport studio led to four customers suffering serious skin infections, has escaped an immediate jail term.

John Cochran, whose Commercial Street business was variously called Blue Voodoo, Sun Tattoo Studio and Flesh Wound, has been sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, at Cardiff Crown Court.

He has also had his licence to practice revoked, meaning he can no longer work in the Newport area. He must also complete 150 hours of unpaid work.

Almost 850 people were tested for hepatitis B and C, and HIV, after an alert in May last year. Severe cases of a skin infection - pseudomonas - had previously been linked to the studio.

The cases all followed body piercings. Victims required surgery, and in some cases reconstruction.

After the link was confirmed, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Newport city council launched a look-back exercise, to trace hundreds of former clients of the studio, to offer tests.

This followed the discovery of the bacteria that caused the infection in studio equipment. There was also considered to be a risk of blood-borne viruses being passed on.

Known as Exercise Seren, it cost an estimated £240,000.

Cochran (also known as John Weston), aged 60, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to failing to comply with both section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and section 16(2)(e) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.

The latter related to failing to ensure, for the purpose of securing the cleanliness of the premises and its fittings, that needles used in treatment were placed in separate covered and reusable boxes, or in disposable needle boxes designed for the purpose.

The prosecution was brought by Newport City Council. Its cabinet member for regulatory functions,

Councillor Bob Poole, said: “This was an extremely concerning and serious case - for the women who were infected with pseudomonas, a very nasty infection; for the customers who were then put through the worry of having health tests for potentially serious conditions; and for the authorities who had the huge task of investigating and dealing with the aftermath.

“I would like to thank Public Health Wales and the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board for the professional, efficient and calm way they conducted the testing regime, and our officers for undertaking what was, at times, a difficult investigation.” said councillor Poole.

“It took a lot of resources, both in time and money that could have been avoided if the defendant had carried out the proper hygiene procedures to protect the health and well-being of his customers.

“We have called for more stringent regulations around the tattooing and piercing industry as it is too easy for people to set up in such businesses and it is very difficult for councils to prevent people from trading.”

“We can only refuse registration if a court has previously removed their registration and we have to rely on the tattooist or piercer to pass on that information.”