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Coroner recommends radical overhaul of consumer laws following fridge-freezer inquest

Coroner recommends a series of product safety measures to prevent further deaths

Santosh Benjamin Muthiah died in 2010

26 September 2014

The Coroner in the case of a 36-year-old man who died in a house fire in Wealdstone, North London in November 2010 has made a series of recommendations, which would mean a radical overhaul in the way that all household appliances in the UK are sold and regulated in the UK.

Over 3 weeks in August, Coroner, Andrew Walker heard how Santosh Benjamin, 36, was killed as he saved his two young children, after a fire in their home in Wealdstone, North London.

The two children, aged three years and three months at the time, survived the fire along with Mr Benjamin’s wife, Jennifer, who was on maternity leave at the time.

The Coroner, delivering his verdict at Barnet Coroner’s Court today, found that a fault in a Beko fridge freezer was the cause of the fire.

In his verdict Coroner Walker recommended that failure to notify authorities of a fault could result in a prison sentence for manufacturers amongst a range of measures to ensure the safety of household appliances.

A pre-inquest hearing in May 2013 heard that in November 2008 Beko instructed leading safety lab, Intertek to run a risk assessment on its products. Intertek concluded that various models of fridge freezers manufactured by the company were ‘a serious risk’ and the safety specialists recommended ‘rapid corrective action’.

The Court heard how a week later, an email from Beko's headquarters in Turkey replied, "we don’t need to recall these products”.

The Court also heard how, in June 2010, London Fire Brigade raised a number of 'very serious points' with Beko. Santosh Benjamin died five months later - in November 2010.

In today’s verdict, Coroner Walker said he would be recommending a series of measures through Prevention of Future Deaths Reports, publically available Reports written when a Coroner feels that the evidence he has heard means that action should be taken to prevent future deaths.

Coroner Walker recommended that the following measures be put in place:
  1. The creation of a simple, easy to use, Government funded/National website where all product recalls can be registered and accessed by consumers (and retailers).
  2. The mandatory placement on all domestic “white goods” appliances of the manufacturer, make, model number, serial number/batch number in flame resistant material.
  3. Legislation that offences relating to the "failure to notify" duties in Reg 7 and Reg 9 of the General Product Safety Regulations 2005: (GPSR’s)
    • to become "either way" offences
    • maximum penalties on summary conviction to be increased to a level 5 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment
    • maximum penalties on conviction in the Crown Court, to include an unlimited fine and/or 2 years imprisonment (in line with many other "trader offences”).
    • the removal of time limits for the institution of criminal proceedings or an extension to the existing time limits
  4. A mandatory requirement that retailers must obtain the name, address and/or telephone number and/or email address of consumers at the point of sale of domestic “white goods” appliances.
  5. The storage of the above information for 10 years from date of purchase.
  6. A requirement that all fire brigades/services in England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland report all fires originating in and/or caused by domestic “white goods” appliances to the Trading Standards authority with jurisdiction over the address where the fire occurred.
  7. The creation and implementation of a Code of Practice on product recalls to include: minimum standards, prominence guidelines for recall notices at point of sale and advertising (with a view to improving consistency of approach by manufacturers and retailers).
Jill Paterson from the product liability team at law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Mr Benjamin's family, welcomed the Coroner’s verdict and said:

“We welcome this verdict and the measures that Coroner Walker has recommended.

“Through our ‘Expect it’s Safe’ campaign we have been calling for more to be done to ensure that people who have faulty appliances in their home are made aware of the problems, regardless of the cost to the company whose responsibility it is to provide safe and reliable products.

“We now call upon the Government and other relevant bodies to implement all of these recommendations without delay in the hope that they will prevent any future needless tragedy caused by a household appliance.”

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