Based on the existing evidence, the Crown Office announced Monday it would not prosecute Scotland’s Errington Cheese Ltd. or its owners for the death of a 3-year old girl in September 2016.
A criminal prosecution is still possible if new evidence becomes available and the authorities may conduct a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI).
The death came during an outbreak of E. coli O157 in Scotland in 2016 between July and September. Seventeen of the 26 people stricken required hospital care. The likely source of the outbreak and cause of the girl’s death was Errington’s Dunsyre Blue cheese, according to a Health Protection Scotland (HPS) report published in March 2017.
The family-owned Errington, based in Lanarkshire, has never accepted that its unpasteurized Dunsyre Blue caused the outbreak or the death.
The Crown Office said the Dunbartonshire girl died “as a complication of an E. coli infection.” Selina Cairns, who runs the company with the founder, and her father, Humphrey Errington, last year said she feared authorities were trying to “pin it” on her.
But relief came with this statement: “After giving the case careful consideration, Crown Counsel have concluded, based on the available evidence, that there will be no criminal proceedings brought as a result of the death.”
“We welcome the Crown Office decision, and our thoughts and sympathies remain with the family of the child who sadly died,” said Cairns. She declined further comment due to the possible FAI and Errington’s court challenge to a ban on its products.
For those reasons, Food Standards Scotland also kept its reaction to a minimum.
“The decision made by crown counsel on whether to proceed with criminal proceedings is entirely independent and separate to the decisions made during this incident, and has different requirements to decisions made under food law,” said FFS’s Geoff Ogle.
The incident management team investigating the outbreak found E. coli bacteria was able to contaminate Errington’s cheese production. The company, which is said to be a pioneer in artisanal cheese-making in Scotland, has many supporters.
Professor Hugh Pennington, one of Britain’s best-known food safety experts, has called Food Standards Scottland’s management of the Dunsrye Blue incident “a mess.” And a Committee for the Defense of Artisan Food was formed to defend Errington and correct the “injustice.”
Errington’s will challenge the ban in a local sheriff’s court in December. In January, it won a court ruling against South Lanarkshire Council, which had imposed a ban on the sale of some of the firm’s cheeses produced from ewes’ milk.
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