Michelle Victor from the product safety and consumer law team at Leigh Day has welcomed the decision by the Court of Appeal to uphold the conviction and six-year custodial sentence handed down to restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman who was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and six other food safety offences.
Ms Victor said that the negligence of North Yorkshire based restauranteur Mr Zaman was so serious that both the conviction and sentence should serve as a deterrent to others who put profit before their customer’s safety.
Mr Zaman, was found guilty at Teesside Crown Court in May 2016 of the manslaughter of Paul Wilson who died from a severe anaphylactic shock after eating takeaway curry, despite having made it clear to the staff that it must not contain nuts.
Mr Wilson suffered from a severe allergy to peanuts and is understood to have routinely stressed to restaurant staff that his food must contain no nuts of any kind.
Mr Wilson’s death occurred three weeks after a teenager at another of Mr Zaman’s restaurants had an allergic reaction that required hospital treatment. She had been assured her meal would not contain nuts.
The prosecution claimed Mr Zaman had “Time and again he ignored the danger and did not protect his customers” but that he “put profit before safety and that he cut corners at every turn.”
Police and trading standards launched an investigation following Mr Wilson’s death. Groundnut powder was found in the kitchen of the Indian Garden and had contaminated other ingredients.
In the judgment from the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Hickinbottom concluded that the appeal in respect of both conviction and sentence be dismissed, with reference being made to “the mitigation of the Appellant's hard and successful work has necessarily to be discounted by the fact that his working practices were not short of appalling”.
The original judge had found and sentenced upon the basis that, as a result of a conscious and deliberate decision, the Appellant decided to change the nut powder to be used in his restaurants from almond to peanut, a decision, the judge found, "undoubtedly based on cost".
In doing so, the judge found, the Appellant decided to run the risk of customers with an allergy to peanut becoming ill, and even dying.
The Appellant was well aware of the risk being run, because he knew that some people had a peanut allergy, and he knew the consequences of them ingesting peanut could be fatal.
Nevertheless, he took no steps to prevent customers of his restaurants with an allergy being exposed to peanut, even when they made their allergy known.
Michelle Victor, a partner in Leigh Day’s consumer law and product safety department, said: “Consumers have the right to expect that the food and drink they consume is safe. Not all allergy requests can be met, but it is important that consumers are made aware of the potential presence of allergens and that when told their particular request will be met, it is in fact met.
“The investigations by the police and trading standards showed that this was not an isolated incident in this chain of restaurants and that the owner repeatedly failed to ensure food was safe for sufferers of allergies. “We are pleased that the appeal was dismissed and the judgement so explicitly clarifies the severity of the negligence.