In what is thought to be the first case of its kind, an Indian restaurateur, Mr Zaman, aged 53, was imprisoned for six years after providing a takeaway containing peanuts to 38 year-old Paul Wilson, who suffered a fatal allergy as a result.
Mr Wilson had ordered a takeaway containing no nuts, but it later transpired that the takeaway was cooked with a groundnut mix containing peanuts. This was despite the takeaway package and order slip at the restaurant being marked as containing no nuts.
Judge Simon Bourne-Arton sitting at Teeside Crown Court said this was not a “transitory” case of gross negligence, but one lasting seven months when Mr Zaman switched almond powder for a cheaper groundnut mix in June 2013 in order to save costs. Mr Zaman owned six restaurants in York and North Yorkshire and was said to have debts of around £300,000.
Only one month prior to Mr Wilson’s death in January 2014, another nut allergy sufferer, Ruby Scott, 17, was hospitalised after eating a meal from another of Mr Zaman’s restaurants. She had been told that her dish did not contain peanuts, but she suffered an allergic reaction requiring an injection of adrenaline.
This incident resulted in a visit by a trading standards officer a week before Mr Wilson’s death. On that visit, evidence was found of peanuts in a meal the officer had been told was peanut- free. Despite warnings by trading standards about informing customers of food containing nuts, Mr Zaman seemingly continued using the less costly ingredient without warning customers.
Mr Zaman denied manslaughter by gross negligence, perverting the course of justice, and six food safety offences. He was found guilty of all charges, except perverting the course of justice.
The judge said Mr Zaman could have destroyed the groundnut mix after Ruby Scott had suffered a reaction, but had chosen not to. The judge further commented that Mr Zaman had told “many lies” and told him that “You remain in complete and utter denial for what you have done.” The CPS said the owner had “put profit before safety” at his restaurants.
This case sends out a clear message to businesses about the critical importance of compliance with food safety. The CPS issued the warning that “If you ignore your responsibilities and regulations and put lives at real risk then we will not hesitate to prosecute.”