Curry house owner convicted of manslaughter of customer with nut allergy


An Indian restaurant owner with a "cavalier attitude" to safety has been convicted of the manslaughter of a customer with a nut allergy after he supplied him with a curry containing peanuts.

Paul Wilson, 38, was meticulous about his condition and asked for "no nuts" when staff at the Indian Garden, Easingwold, North Yorkshire, cooked his chicken tikka masala takeaway.

Bar manager Mr Wilson was found slumped in the toilet at his home in Helperby in January 2014 and had died from a severe anaphylactic shock.

Restaurant owner Mohammed Zaman was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter following a trial at Teesside Crown Court at which the jury was told he swapped almond powder in recipes for cheaper groundnut mix, containing peanuts, despite warnings.

The prosecution alleged Zaman, who owned six restaurants in York and North Yorkshire, was almost £300,000 in debt and cut costs by using the cheaper ingredient and by employing untrained, illegal workers.

Mr Wilson died three weeks after a teenaged customer at another of Zaman's restaurants suffered an allergic reaction which required hospital treatment. She had been assured her meal would not contain nuts.

The prosecution said the owner had "put profit before safety" at the restaurants he owned.

Zaman, from Huntington, York, denied manslaughter by gross negligence, perverting the course of justice and six food safety offences.

He was found guilty of all charges except perverting course of justice.

He claimed he left managers to run his restaurants and that included ordering stock and hiring staff. He was not on the premises when the curry was sold.

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said Mr Wilson had told staff that his meal must be nut-free.

He said the restaurant had written "no nuts" on his order and on the lid of his curry.

Mr Wright said: "Mohammed Zaman received numerous warnings that he was putting his customers' health, and potentially their lives, at risk.

"Tragically for Paul Wilson, Mohammed Zaman took none of those opportunities and ignored all of the warnings he was given.

"His was a reckless and cavalier attitude to risk and one that we, the prosecution, would describe as grossly negligent."

Mr Wright added: "Time and again he ignored the danger and did not protect his customers.

"The evidence will establish that Mohammed Zaman 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. And a test purchaser went to the Indian Garden the day after Mr Wilson's death and was assured by a staff member that they could buy a nut-free curry.

Mr Wilson's parents Keith and Margaret, from Sheffield, said their son had carefully managed his condition since he was seven when he had a reaction to a Marathon chocolate bar.

He loved curry but was always clear when ordering that his food must not contain nuts, she said.

Outside court, Detective Inspector Shaun Page said Mr Wilson's death was "totally avoidable".

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, the Recorder of Middlesbrough, will pass sentence this afternoon and Zaman's barrister Alistair Webster QC said his client understood he will be jailed.

Zaman was granted bail to spend lunchtime with his family but was told he must remain in the building.

He did not visibly react when the guilty verdicts were returned. Family members sobbed and hugged him as he left court and went into a consultation room.

He was found guilty of six food safety offences and manslaughter but cleared of perverting the course of justice. 

After what was thought to be the first successful prosecution of its kind, Detective Inspector Shaun Page said the case showed food suppliers have a duty of care to customers.

"We have shown Zaman had a duty of care to serve safe food," he said. "He has breached that duty to a criminal standard." 

Outside court, Mr Wilson's parents Keith and Margaret said they were relieved and urged more staff to be trained about allergens.

They said: "Justice has been served, Paul can rest in peace.

"We can't go back and change the past, all we can do is focus on the present and the future and making things right. Don't let this happen again." 

Martin Goldman, chief crown prosecutor with CPS Yorkshire and Humberside, said: "In this conviction, the CPS has sent a very clear message to the catering industry: there is a duty of care to your customers.

"If you ignore your responsibilities and regulations and put lives at real risk then we will not hesitate to prosecute."