17th January 2018
The coroner’s inquest into the death of 18-year-old Shahida Shahid ruled yesterday a verdict of death by misadventure. Our Chief Executive was personally in attendance at the inquest in Manchester over several days to offer support to Shahida’s family.
We wish to make it clear that the Anaphylaxis Campaign are not legal experts; the primary reason we attend inquests are to offer support to families and to identify if there are specific lessons that can be learned to take forward into the work we do to support people at risk of severe allergic reactions.
Shahida was known to have eczema and an allergy to milk from an early age, later developing other allergies to egg, fish and nuts. She collapsed due to a severe allergic reaction following a visit to Almost Famous Burgers in Manchester, where she ate a chicken burger that had been marinated in buttermilk. Although a friend administered the adrenaline auto-injector that Shahida carried with her, she sadly suffered irreversible brain damage and died three days later in hospital on 12th January 2015.
Lynne Regent, Chief Executive of the Anaphylaxis Campaign, said:
“Throughout the coroner’s inquest I have been struck by the dignity of Shahida Shahid’s family, who last week were remembering the third anniversary since her death, and who have had to relive over the past few days the tragic circumstances which led to her dying.
It was clear from the evidence heard at the inquest that Shahida was an intelligent and sensible young woman, who did all the right things to minimise the risks of experiencing a severe allergic reaction, including carrying her emergency adrenaline medication, training her friends and family how to use it and informing people about her allergies.
In their conclusion, the jury raised that there was an issue of lack of communication in the restaurant in which Shahida ate. This is an important reminder to everyone within the catering industry that robust procedures need to be followed when people affected by food allergies draw attention to their needs when eating out.
We will be working with the local authority and other organisations involved in the inquest. We will also be writing to the catering companies that we work with to remind them about our best practice advice in light of the evidence we have heard.”
We understand that the extensive media coverage of the inquest has raised several questions from our supporters about the role of the coroner and purpose of an inquest.
A coroner is appointed by a local authority and investigates deaths reported to them to find out who has died and how, when, and where they died. An inquest is a public court hearing held by the coroner to discover the facts about the circumstances of someone’s death. There are a very limited number of specific legal terms used to record cause of death, one of which is the term ‘misadventure’.
The coroner decides who should be called to give evidence as a witness. If a witness lives in England or Wales, they must attend if they are asked; if they live abroad, they do not have to attend.
An inquest is different from other types of court hearing because there is no prosecution or defence. The purpose of an inquest is to establish the relevant facts and cannot blame someone for someone’s death. The coroner or jury cannot find a person or organisation criminally responsible for someone’s death. For legal reasons, therefore, we cannot comment on certain aspects of any inquest.
The Ministry of Justice has produced a booklet called a ‘Guide to Coroner Services’ and if you are interested in the coronial process, you may find it helpful to read: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guide-to-coroner-services-and-coroner-investigations-a-short-guide.
By law, food businesses selling catered food (for example in restaurants, takeaways and hotels) are required to provide information on major allergenic ingredients, either in writing and/or verbally. If information is provided verbally, the food business will need to ensure that there is some sort of written signage that is clearly visible, to indicate that allergen information is available from a member of staff. Systems should also be in place to ensure that, if requested, the information given verbally is supported in a recorded form to ensure consistency and accuracy.
You can find out more in our guide to eating out for young people here: https://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/young-people/young-people-help-a-guide-to-eating-out/.
We believe every member of your team needs some understanding of food allergy and its possible consequences and this should be incorporated into your staff training. Members of staff, who serve meals to customers, need to be able to offer accurate information about ingredients. If they are unsure of what is in a particular meal, there should be a procedure in place for finding out. There should be a designated person on duty during each shift that is able to answer questions about ingredients.
We have practical advice for the catering industry on our website: https://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/corporate/corporate-protecting-allergic-customers/.
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