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Manslaughter charge follows allergy death

William Hatchett25/05/2016 - 14:00

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The Indian garden restaurant
The Indian garden restaurant

The conviction of 'reckless' restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman, owner of the Indian Garden restaurant in Easingwold, for manslaughter by gross negligence shows that restaurants cannot afford to gamble with people's lives by ignoring allergy regulations, said the CIEH this week.

In addition to manslaughter, Mr Zaman, of Aylesham Court, Huntington, was found guilty by a jury at Teeside Crown Court of six food safety offences. He was cleared of perverting the course of justice. The case followed the death of Paul Wilson, a bar manager from Helperby, from anaphylactic shock after he had eaten what he was assured was 'nut free' curry in one of Mr Zaman's six restaurants.

Mr Wilson, who suffered from a severe peanut allergy, ordered a chicken tikka masala on 30 January 2014. The court was told that 'nut free' was written on his order and on the lid of his takeaway. However, instead of using almond powder as an ingredient, the restaurant had substituted it for cheaper ground nut mix, which contained peanuts.

Less than a month earlier, the court was told, there had been a complaint about an allergic reaction from Ruby Scott, after eating a meal from the Jaipur Spice restaurant, in Easingwold, also owned by Mr Zaman. Ms Scott, who suffered from a swollen face and throat, was hospitalised and treated with steroids. The restaurant denied using peanuts, following her mothers complaint, saying that their curries only contained almonds.

But an investigation by trading standards officers from North Yorkshire County Council revealed high levels of peanuts in the restaurant's dishes. The court was told that warnings to Mr Zaman were ignored and that a trading standards officer had been able to purchase a 'nut free' curry containing ground peanuts from the Indian Garden, the day after Mr Wilson's death. It was also told that Mr Zaman had shown no remorse over the death of Mr Wilson or the incident affecting Ms Scott.

Mr Zaman, jurors learned, was almost £300,000 in debt. He had been substituting the almond powder, used as a thickener, with ground nut mix, containing peanuts, as a way of cutting costs. He claimed in court that he left managers to run his restaurants including ordering stock and hiring staff. The jury heard that his restaurants had been recognised by the British Catering Association and in the British Curry Awards.

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said: 'His was a reckless and cavalier attitude to risk and one that we, the prosecution, would describe as grossly negligent.' Passing sentence, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, said that Mr Zaman had remained 'in complete and utter denial' and ignored warnings from officials.

Jenny Morris, head of the TiFSiP commented: 'This was an entirely avoidable and tragic loss of life, for which there can be no excuse. Any food business that does not take allergen management seriously needs to think again and act swiftly to properly protect all its customers.'

Since the introduction of the The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR) in 2014 consumers can expect accurate information on the 14 different allergenic ingredients in all types of food, whether packaged or served as a meal or snack. Following calls from the food industry for more clarity, last September, the CIEH and  TiFSiP launched a white paper on precautionary food allergen labelling. 

The white paper calls for consistent use of authoritative guidance along the supply chain to improve reliability, limiting and simplifying the range of 'may contain' descriptors and the stablishing of threshold levels for allergen contaminants.


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