Two takeaway workers jailed over allergy death

The owner and manager of a takeaway, have been jailed for manslaughter after a teenage girl died when the meal she ordered carried peanuts.

Mohammed Abdul Kuddus and Harun Rashid, who ran Royal Spice in Lancashire, who were found guilty in October, have been jailed for two years and three years respectively at Manchester Crown Court.

15-year-old Megan Lee suffered irreversible brain damage after an allergic reaction to the meal, which she ordered via the Just Eat website in 2016. Despite detailing her allergies in an online form, her order was found to have the “widespread presence” of peanut protein.

She suffered an acute asthma attack after eating the food and died two days later, on 1 January 2017, having suffered irreversible brain damage.

The Lancashire takeaway was shut down days later following an inspection by Trading Standards and Environmental Health Officers.

In sentencing, Mrs Justice Yip told the pair that Megan was responsible enough to highlight her allergies when placing the order but “sadly the same responsibility was not at your end”.

She said the takeaway had no kitchen systems or processes to manage allergen control. She said “The menu contained no information about allergens. No record was kept of the ingredients used in dishes. In short, it appears that no-one at the takeaway had any way of knowing what allergens were in the food supplied.”

“In short, it appears that no one at the takeaway had any way of knowing what allergens were in the food supplied.”

The judge accepted that the defendants – both fathers – had expressed genuine remorse and that neither meant to kill the teenager.

She told them: “Neither of you actually foresaw the death of anyone. It never occurred to you that you would be responsible for the death of a young girl. Quite simply, you never gave the risk of a customer dying because of an allergy a moment’s thought.

“You must now live with the guilt of what you have done and the suffering you have caused Megan’s family and to your own families. All of this is a tragedy that could so easily have been avoided had you exercised the proper care to be expected of those who serve food to the public.”

A two-week trial at Manchester Crown Court was told of a “litany of failings” in the kitchen, including poor hygiene and no records of ingredients.

Kuddus, of Belper Street in Blackburn, received an additional eight month sentence, to run concurrently, for two food safety offences.

Rashid, who claimed he was merely a delivery driver at the restaurant at the time, was given 10 months in custody, also to run concurrently, for the same offences.

Megan ordered the meal with a friend via the Just Eat website on 30 December 2016, writing “prawns, nuts” in the comments and notes section. However, the delivered food, which included an onion bhaji, a seekh kebab and a peshwari naan, was later found to have the “widespread presence” of peanut protein.

Detective Chief Inspector Mark Vaughton, of Lancashire Police, said: “Megan’s death was the tragic consequence of the conduct of these two men. As owner and operator, Kuddus and Rashid each owed a duty of care to the public.

“The defendants gave little thought to the consequences of their actions. They showed a blatant disregard for customer safety, hazard control, food safety and hygiene. Megan’s death was a tragedy waiting to happen.”

The Royal Spice takeaway is now trading under new ownership, police said.

In a statement read outside court after the verdicts, Mr Lee and his wife Gemma said their lives would never be the same after Megan's death. They have called for other food businesses operating “in such a deplorable and ignorant manner” to learn from the verdicts and are working with an anaphylaxis charity. Mr Lee added :“Do not guess, do not play ignorant, do not play Russian roulette with precious lives,”

Mrs Justice Yip supported their call, saying she hoped "the message is heard" that food suppliers who fail to take proper care "will face significant custodial sentences if a death results".

She added: "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.”

The judge praised Mr and Mrs Lee’s “dignity and courage” throughout the gruelling trial.

“They do not seek retribution but want their story to serve as a warning to others in the food industry so that other families will not be forced to experience the indescribable loss that they have suffered,” she added.

News of the sentencing comes amidst a heightened focus on allergen awareness within the industry.

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