Pub pair jailed for serving deadly Christmas meal

The Railway Hotel in Station Lane, Hornchurch, Essex. Picture: PA

The Railway Hotel in Station Lane, Hornchurch, Essex. Picture: PA

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THE manager and chef of a pub were yesterday jailed after a customer died of food poisoning from eating a turkey dinner on Christmas Day.

Della Callagher died and 32 others fell ill after eating the meal at the Railway Hotel in Hornchurch, in London, on Christmas Day 2012.

Manager Anne-Marie McSweeney, 40, was jailed for 18 months and head chef Mehmet Kaya, 37, for 12 months for perverting the course of justice by falsifying records.

Pub chain Mitchells & Butlers was fined £1.5 million for having “manifestly inadequate” food safety measures in place.

The fine reflects the “serious of the offence” and the firm’s management and shareholders must recognise the need to “operate within the law,” the judge said.

It was found guilty of placing unsafe food on the market by a jury at the end of last year.

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Mrs Callagher, 46, became unwell on Boxing Day. Her husband told the court how his wife began shaking and her eyes rolled back into her head.

Guests paid £39.95 for a meal which had been cooked the day before and reheated on Christmas Day.

The diners developed a type of food poisoning called clostridium perfringens after the turkey breast was not prepared properly.

After the outbreak, McSweeney and Kaya disposed of all the waste food, preventing health inspectors from taking samples. They also forged kitchen records.

They were both found guilty of perverting the course of justice for falsifying food safety records.

Mitchells & Butlers was found guilty of placing unsafe food, namely turkey meat, on the market by not ensuring food hygiene rules were followed.

Fining the company at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London, judge Alastair Hammerton said: “The company had become aware of the risks [prior to the incident] of cooking, cooling, and reheating, turkeys but had took manifestly inadequate steps in addressing that risk.”

He added: “The company is a substantial concern, with a turnover of £1.96 billion and a pre-tax profit in the region of £125m. In these circumstances, my judgment is that fine should be £1.5m. This figure is of a level that recognises the seriousness of the offence, taking into account the company’s means.

“It brings home to business management and shareholders the need to operate within the law.”

He added: “There was a systematic failure in record-keeping at the Railway Hotel.”

Addressing Kaya and McSweeney, the judge said: “Following the discovery of the food poisoning outbreak on 26 December, you both embarked upon the fabrication of the kitchen’s due diligence logs.

“I am satisfied that you, Mrs McSweeney, were in charge of the process and caused Mr Kaya to get involved.”

Two victim impact statements were read to the court, from Mrs Callagher’s husband John and her father Daniel O’Leary.

Mr Callagher struggled to control his emotions as the statement was read out by the prosecutor, Andrew Campbell-Tiech.

It said: “When Della was killed our lives fell apart. Della’s passing was completely avoidable and all three defendants appear to have little, or no, idea what their actions have caused.”

The statement added: “Life will never be the same. My daughter Nancy will now grow up without Della by her side, and that is simply unforgivable.”

Mr O’Leary added: “I’ve lost my zest for life.”

During the trial, Mr Callagher, 53, who was also struck down by the food bug, described his wife’s death as “horrific”.

He said: “I was getting increasingly concerned as the day went on. The vomiting and diarrhoea wouldn’t stop. Della was a very private person. It was horrific to see what was going on.”

He took his wife to A&E but her condition deteriorated on Boxing Day.

“She got far, far, far, worse. It was horrific. Something changed. I felt her physically shake and her eyes rolled, as if she was having a cardiac arrest.”

She was rushed to Queen’s Hospital, Romford, and pronounced dead at 8:15am on 27 December.

McSweeney, who worked for the company for 24 years, and Kaya were both cleared of one count of placing unsafe food on the market.

The pub chain was ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £120, and Kaya and McSweeney were each ordered to pay £100.

The court heard that the cost of the trial to the public purse was £273,000, but no decision has been made on whether that will be paid by the pub chain.

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