In October 2018, Mohammed Kuddus, the sole director of Royal Spice, a takeaway in Lancashire, was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter following the death of a customer, 15 year old Megan Lee. When placing their online order, Ms Lee’s friend included the words ‘nuts, prawns’ in the ‘notes’ section.
At the time, the order was received and processed by Harun Rashid, whom was also a defendant in the original case. He was not part of this appeal. Mr Kuddus, whom also worked at the restaurant, prepared part of the order but was not aware of the comments included at the time that it had been placed.
Ms Lee suffered a severe allergic reaction to peanut proteins contained in part of the order and she sadly died in hospital two days later.
Mr Kuddus appealed his conviction and it is that appeal which has now produced key guidance for those engaged in the food service industry. Summarised briefly, the points of interest are:-
- There is a need for appropriate systems to be in place to recognise and manage risk. In this case, Mr Kuddus’ position as sole director meant that he had a duty to implement proper systems (so in this case, systems which would prevent food being served to someone that had declared a particular allergy)
- It is not necessary to prove an obvious risk in relation a specific person- i.e. the actual victim. What needs to be shown is that the defendant’s breach of duty created an obvious and serious risk to a group of people (e.g. sufferers of nut allergies.)
- There is a requirement that the so-called ‘reasonable person’ would have foreseen an obvious and serious risk of death;
- Crucially, knowledge is important. In this case, the Court emphasised that Mr Kuddus knew nothing of the allergy that had been declared on the part of Ms Lee, and he had never been in possession of this i
nformation at any stage.
Sir Brian Leveson stated within the judgment that ‘there is now a general awareness of the potential risks to those who suffer from allergies and, as a result, it should be understood that the courts will rigorously scrutinise the way in which restaurants discharge the duty of care that they owe to such customers.’
That comment, whilst not forming part of the main reasoning, is very interesting. The message is clear: though the re-examination of this case on appeal led to the conviction being quashed, there are high expectations of those operating in the food supply industry. Customer safety, with particular emphasis upon allergies, is a high profile topic.
Companies and individuals need to invest the time and resources necessary to understand their legal responsibilities, in order to meet the important duty owed to their customers and to avoid legal action.
If you or your company needs advice on compliance, please do not hesitate to contact the Regulatory team at Ison Harrison on 0113 284 5000, or alternatively email Amber Walker on Amber.Walker@isonharrison.co.uk.