Natasha’s Law

In July 2016, Natasha Ednan-Laperouse boarded a flight from Heathrow Airport to Nice with her father.  Prior to departure, she ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette purchased from the main Pret a Manger shop in Terminal 5.

Natasha had a severe allergy to sesame seeds and studiously avoided all food containing them.  However, Pret was not legally required to list sesame seeds on the list of ingredients because, under current laws, food prepared on the premises in which it is sold is not required to show allergen information.

The fifteen-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest onboard the BA flight.  Her father, having injected her with two EpiPens which failed to work, had to call his wife and tell her to say goodbye to their daughter.

He told the BBC:  “Natasha said that she still couldn’t breathe and desperately looked at me, she said: “Daddy, help me, I can’t breathe”.

“These were her last words”.

No parent should have to experience the horror the Ednan-Laperouse’s have had to live with over the past three years.  And thanks to their campaigning to have the law changed, the risk of this type of situation happening again will be reduced, thanks to new legislation dubbed ‘Natasha’s Law.’

 

What is Natasha’s Law?

Natasha’s Law will require food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged foods.  The legislation will be introduced at the end of summer, and the new laws will come into force in summer 2021.  This delay is aimed at giving businesses two years to implement the new requirements.

The government consulted with the food industry and the general public during January 2019, asking them to choose between four options, including full ingredient list labelling; allergen-only labelling; ‘ask the staff’ labels on products; and promoting best practice to businesses.  Full ingredients list labelling received the most positive response.

The reforms cover labelling requirements for foods that are prepared and packed on the same premises from which they are sold – such as a packaged sandwich or salad made by staff earlier in the day and placed on a shelf for purchase.

Currently, these foods are not required to carry labels, and if asked by a consumer, allergen information must be given in person by the food business.

 

Consequences for failing to comply with food allergy regulations

In October 2018, Mohammed Abdul Kuddus, the owner of Royal Spice Takeaway in Lancashire, and Harun Rashid, the manager of the business, were found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter after a teenage girl died from an allergic reaction to nuts.

Rashid was also found guilty of failing to discharge a general duty of employers and another count of failing to put in place permanent procedures relating to food safety regulations.

The convictions came after Megan Lee, a 15-year-old, died after eating a seekh kebab and naan ordered from the takeaway.  Megan had been diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy at the age of eight.

The order for the meal was made online by Megan’s friend, who wrote “no prawns, nuts” in the notes section of the online order form for food which did not usually contain either ingredient, alerting takeaway staff that Megan suffered from an allergy.  However, staff ignored the note.  In addition, the Court heard that the business had no procedures in place for allergen management and no audit of their available dishes or written records of their recipes was kept.  Tests on Megan’s meal showed it was full of peanut protein.

As well as the premises being dirty, there were no procedures in place to protect against the cross-contamination of allergens.

Both men received jail sentences.

 

The definition of gross negligence manslaughter

Manslaughter can be defined as:

“The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. Or, the unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection”.

Lord Mackay LC described the scope gross negligence manslaughter in R v Adomako [1995] 1 AC 171.

“… [T]he ordinary principles of the law of negligence apply to ascertain whether or not the defendant has been in breach of a duty of care towards the victim who has died. If such breach of duty is established the next question is whether that breach of duty caused the death of the victim. If so, the jury must go on to consider whether that breach of duty should be characterised as gross negligence and therefore as a crime. This will depend on the seriousness of the breach of duty committed by the defendant in all the circumstances in which the defendant was placed when it occurred. The jury will have to consider whether the extent to which the defendant’s conduct departed from the proper standard of care incumbent upon him, involving as it must have done a risk of death to the patient, was such that it should be judged criminal.”

However, gross negligence manslaughter has been criticised by commentators due to the lack of clarity surrounding the offence.

Dr Anne Lodge, senior lecturer in law at Teesside University, wrote in the Journal of Criminal Law[1]:

“There is no comprehensible and consistent means of measuring whether conduct is sufficiently gross to warrant criminal conviction. The gross negligence condition also sets the culpability bar too low by permitting the criminal censure of undeserving defendants who did not advert to any risk of death associated with their conduct.”

According to Dr Lodge, academics have been critical of gross negligence manslaughter, calling it a “dog’s breakfast” and “common law at its worst”.  She argues that the Courts give more weight to the harm caused to the victim rather than the alleged offender’s culpability.  This has resulted in “a poorly defined serious homicide offence which leaves much to the discretion of the jury, is incapable of any objective and fair measurement, and needs further judicial or legislative attention”[2].

Despite the criticism of the scope and definition of the offence, in August 2018, the Definitive Sentencing Guidelines for Manslaughter were introduced.  The guidelines provide that the maximum sentence for gross negligence manslaughter is life imprisonment, with an offence range of 1 to 18 years in prison.

The guidelines require the Court to decide on a sentence after measuring the culpability of the offender and the harm caused.  High culpability for gross negligence manslaughter can include (but is not limited to):

  • the negligent conduct was done for financial gain
  • other criminal activity occurred alongside the gross negligence
  • the offender continued or repeated the negligent conduct in the face of the obvious suffering caused to the deceased by that conduct

The Court can consider both aggravating and mitigating factors when deciding on a sentence.  Examples of mitigating factors include (but are not limited to):

  • genuine remorse
  • full co-operation during the investigation
  • self-reporting
  • attempts to assist the victim and their family

 

In summary

Natasha’s Law clarifies the responsibility those in the food industry have when it comes to listing ingredients and pointing out allergens.  It will also help prevent tragic deaths occurring.  However, owners and managers of food premises must be aware that the sentences around gross negligence manslaughter, a charge that can stem from non-compliance with food allergy regulations, are harsh under the new guidelines.  Therefore, if an incident occurs, it is imperative to seek expert legal advice immediately.

[1] [1] Lodge, A (2017), Gross negligence manslaughter on the cusp: the unprincipled privileging of harm over culpability, Journal of Criminal Law, 2017, 81(2), 125-

[2] Ibid