The Court of Appeal has upheld the manslaughter conviction of a restaurant owner who neither cooked for nor served a customer who died after eating at his establishment.
This week the Court of Appeal decided a case that will send chills down the spines of many restaurant owners and operators.
On 30 January 2014, Paul Wilson was found dead at home. He had spent the afternoon and early evening drinking with a friend. Then Mr. Wilson got a takeaway from the Indian Garden Restaurant in Easingwold. Mr. Wilson had a peanut allergy, and had asked whether the meal contained nuts. The waiter had said that it did not. That waiter had not been trained in food hygiene or safety.
In fact, the sauce contained a large amount of peanut. This is what killed Mr. Wilson. Investigators found that there was a lot of confusion about which ingredients were to be used in the cooking. Some tubs were incorrectly labelled. They were found to contain traces of nuts when they were supposed to hold something totally different.
The restaurant was owned by Mohammed Khalique Zaman, who was highly experienced in the industry. He was prosecuted for various breaches of food safety requirements, and for the manslaughter of Mr. Wilson. Strikingly, Mr. Zaman had not been involved in preparing the food, or serving Mr. Wilson.
After a trial, a jury found him guilty of all counts. On 23 May 2016 he was sent to prison for six years.
Mr. Zaman appealed against his conviction and his sentence. The Court of Appeal refused his appeal, so he must serve the full sentence.
Mr. Zaman was charged with “gross negligence manslaughter”. This means that the prosecution had to prove – and did – that:
- Zaman owed Mr. Wilson a duty of care;
- Zaman breached that duty of care;
- The risk of someone dying from that breach would have been foreseen by a ‘reasonably prudent person’;
- Zaman’s breach caused Mr. Wilson’s death, or made a significant contribution to it; and
- Zaman’s actions amounted to ‘gross negligence’.
Mr. Zaman’s case
Mr. Zaman accepted that he owed Mr Wilson a duty of care, and that he needed to provide proper training to his staff. He argued that he had done so, both with formal training, and verbal instructions.
At the Court of Appeal, he argued that the trial Judge had got the law wrong in relation to what a breach of the duty of care is. Mr. Zaman argued that each individual breach (in this case, the mislabelling, lack of training, and so on) should be proven separately, rather than taken in the round.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Court of Appeal Judges disagreed with Mr. Zaman and his legal team. They decided that it was right that the jury could look at all of the breaches together, and decide whether they added up to enough to convict Mr. Zaman.
The Court of Appeal also said that six years was not excessive for this type of offence, and that Mr. Zaman’s sentence should not be reduced.
What Does this Mean for Food Businesses?
Mr. Zaman appears to have been convicted on the basis that a series of relatively minor mistakes added up to a breach of his duty of care, and that was grossly negligent. Separately, any one of those breaches might not have been enough to convict Mr. Zaman.
Owners and managers of food businesses should take note that it is now possible to take together a number of separate mistakes in this way. Anyone not sure whether their training and procedures are up to scratch would be well advised to go through them very carefully indeed.