Food firms could face stiffer sentences after allergy manslaughter case – judge

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Food businesses that take no action to manage allergens could face stiffer sentences in future, a judge has warned as she jailed two takeaway bosses for the manslaughter of a 15-year-old girl.

Mrs Justice Yip said the risks involved with food allergies have “gained a prominence” they did not have at the time of Megan Lee’s death on New Year’s Day 2017.

She said: “It may well be that a restaurateur who takes no action to manage allergens today would be regarded as blatantly disregarding a high risk.”

Nut allergy sufferer Megan Lee died from an anaphylactic reaction after she unknowingly ate peanuts in a meal sold by the Royal Spice takeaway in her home town of Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire.

The teenager and her friend ordered online through the Just Eat website two days earlier and wrote “nuts, prawns” in the comments and notes section.

The delivered meal, which included an onion bhaji, a seekh kebab and a Peshwari naan, was later found to have the “widespread presence” of peanut protein.

Harun Rashid and Mohammed Kuddus
Harun Rashid and Mohammed Kuddus (Danny Lawson/PA)

The two-week trial heard there was a “litany of failings” in the kitchen, including poor hygiene and no records of ingredients.

Jailing Rashid for three years and Kuddus for two years, the judge said: “In short, it appears that no one at the takeaway had any way of knowing what allergens were in the food supplied.”

The court heard Rashid’s negligence was greater because he saw the order when it was placed, but ignored Megan’s comment.

Megan’s parents, Adam and Gemma, have vowed to raise awareness of the dangers of allergies and warned those in the food industry to “not play Russian roulette with precious lives”.

Mrs Justice Yip said: “It is hoped that the message is heard that those who fail to take proper care in the supply of food to the public will face significant custodial sentences if a death results.

“Like Mr and Mrs Lee, I hope that this tragic case adds to the growing awareness in the food industry of what can happen if allergies are not taken seriously.

“Those who fail to heed the warnings and who continue to flout food safety regulations may find the courts taking a harsher view in the future.”

Earlier, Mrs Lee read out an emotional joint victim personal statement from the witness box with her husband next to her.

She described their “living nightmare” as they faced a struggle with anything associated with Christmas and new year – their previous favourite time of year when the family loved spending time together.

She said: “Our perfect family bubble has been shattered apart.”

Explaining that Megan’s first love was school life, they said it “breaks our hearts” that she did not get the chance to sit her GCSE exams which she studied so hard for, or go to the school prom after choosing her dress.

Her second love was musical theatre and she had also been denied the opportunity to pursue an ambition to perform in the West End and become an actress.

Rashid, of Rudd Street, Haslngden, was also found guilty of failing to discharge a general duty of employers, contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act, and another count of failing to put in place, implement and maintain a permanent procedure or procedures in contravention of European Union food safety regulations.

He received concurrent jail terms of six months and four months for those offences.

Kuddus, of Belper Street, Blackburn, admitted those charges on behalf of himself and Royal Spice Takeaway Ltd, trading as Royal Spice Takeaway, and was given concurrent sentences of five months and three months.

Both men, said to have expressed genuine remorse, were subjected to hygiene prohibition orders which bar them from involvement in food management.

A nominal £1,000 fine was imposed on Royal Spice Takeaway Ltd which the court heard has no assets.

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