Two men have been found guilty of manslaughter after a teenage girl died following an allergic reaction to a takeaway meal.
Mohammed Abdul Kuddus, 40, owner and chef and Harun Rashid, 38, takeaway manager, were found guilty at Manchester Crown Court following the death of 15-year-old Megan Lee. Both men will be sentenced on Nov. 7.
After eating takeaway food containing peanuts from the Royal Spice Indian in Hyndburn, Lancashire on Dec. 30, 2016, Megan began experiencing an allergic reaction. She was admitted to Royal Blackburn Hospital but passed away on Jan. 1, 2017. A post-mortem examination showed she died from asthma due to a nut allergy.
Megan and a friend ordered from the Royal Spice via the Just Eat website. A note was left in the comments section of the order about “prawn, nuts” but the food was found to contain peanut protein.
The Royal Spice takeaway is now trading under new ownership.
Megan’s family said the investigation, trial, and media coverage had been a difficult process for them and evidence in court was challenging to hear.
“Whilst we may have received some justice with [the] verdict, we live in hope that [the] result is a warning to other food businesses operating in such a deplorable and ignorant manner to learn by this and improve their standards with immediate effect,” they said in a statement after the verdict.
“We urge all food businesses to improve the standard of food safety and to take allergies seriously. Trading Standards and Environmental Health are there to help. Do not guess, do not play ignorant, do not play Russian roulette with precious lives.”
The family also thanked Trading Standards at Lancashire County Council and Environmental Health at Hyndburn Borough Council for their work to improve standards.
Kuddus had earlier pleaded guilty to food standards and health and safety offenses. He admitted one count of failing to discharge general health/safety duty to a person other than an employee and of contravening or failing to comply with EU provision concerning food safety and hygiene. He also pleaded guilty to the same offenses on behalf of Royal Spice Takeaway, trading as Royal Spice, but had denied manslaughter.
Rashid was charged with manslaughter, one count of failing to discharge general health/safety duty to a person other than an employee and of contravening or failing to comply with EU provision concerning food safety and hygiene. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges. Following trial, both men were found guilty of all counts.
Detective chief inspector Mark Vaughton, of Lancashire Police, said Megan’s death was the consequence of their conduct.
“As owner and operator, Kuddus and Rashid each owed a duty of care to the public. They had to take reasonable steps to ensure customer safety; and in particular, in discharging that duty of care, to take reasonable steps to provide food that was not harmful to customers with a food allergy,” he said.
Vaughton said it was a “tragedy waiting to happen” which the defendants had given “little or no thought”.
“The manner in which the operation was conducted; the premises and equipment maintained; the foodstuffs stored and used; the food prepared and supplied to the public, demonstrated little concern for the safety and well-being of their customers. There was a casual disregard for customer safety; hazard control; food safety and hygiene that was obvious, blatant and widespread.”
Karen Tonge, of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the men failed to protect Megan as their customer.
“The law required Kuddus and Rashid to take reasonable steps to ensure customer safety and to provide food that was not harmful. Their manifest failures and complete disregard for the safety of customers was astonishing,” she said.
“No appropriate systems or conditions were in place to protect Megan or any customer with a known allergy. There was little evidence of any attempt by the defendants to comply with advice and guidance issued to them by the local authority.”
Lynne Regent, Anaphylaxis Campaign chief executive, had helped Megan’s family, who will continue working with the charity to raise awareness of the dangers of allergies.
“We hope that lessons can be learned from this tragic incident. We cannot stress enough how vital it is that anyone affected by food safety issues continues to report any problems to their appropriate Trading Standards or Environmental Health Officer.”
The Anaphylaxis Campaign is a UK charity that supports those at risk of severe allergies and anaphylaxis.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)