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  1. ITV Report

Teenager Owen Carey who suffered fatal allergic reaction 'misled' by Byron burger food chain

  • Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

A teenager who suffered a fatal reaction after eating a birthday burger at a Byron restaurant was misled into believing there were no allergens in the meal, a coroner has ruled.

Owen Carey, who told staff he was allergic to dairy, suffered a fatal reaction after eating grilled chicken coated in buttermilk at the restaurant at the O2 Arena in Greenwich in April 2017, while celebrating his 18th birthday.

The family of Mr Carey have called him their "shining light" and are calling on the Government for 'Owen's Law' to force restaurants to have clear information about allergens on each individual item on the menu.

His family also called on the food industry to "put the safety of their customers first".

Mr Carey's sister Emma Kocher told reporters outside court: "Owen was the shining light in our family and his death should not have happened."

She continued: "It is simply not good enough to have a policy which relies on a verbal communication between the customer and their server which often takes place in a busy, noisy restaurant where the turnover of staff is high.

"This leaves far too much room for error on an issue we know all too well can cost lives," Ms Kocher said.

Owen's family outside Southwark Coroner's Court. Credit: ITV News

"We hope we can bring about change with Owen's Law for better allergen labelling in restaurants," Ms Kocher added.

Assistant coroner Briony Ballard, sitting at Southwark Coroner's Court, ruled earlier: "The deceased died from a severe food-induced anaphylactic reaction from food eaten and ordered at a restaurant despite making staff aware of his allergies."

The inquest heard Mr Carey of Crowborough, East Sussex, did not realise the chicken had been marinated in buttermilk because the ingredient was not listed on the menu.

Owen Carey died from a severe allergic reaction after eating the grilled chicken burger at Byron. Credit: Instagram/Byron

The medical cause of death was given as severe food-induced anaphylaxis.

He collapsed less than an hour after first experiencing an allergic reaction to his meal and was taken to hospital where he died.

The coroner ruled: "The deceased made serving staff aware of his allergies. "The menu was reassuring in that it made no reference to any marinade or potential allergenic ingredient in the food selected.

"The deceased was not informed that there were allergens in the order."

He added: "The food served to and consumed by the deceased contained dairy which caused the deceased to suffer a severe anaphylactic reaction from which he died."

The inquest previously heard that Mr Carey, who suffered from asthma and various other food allergies, was not carrying his Epipen at the time.

In a statement, professor Gideon Lack, a consultant in allergy and immunology, said Mr Carey ate only half of his grilled chicken before he started to experience "lip tingling" and stomach problems.

Owen Carey ate at the Byron burger restaurant at the O2 Arena. Credit: ITV News

He said the symptoms began at 2.45pm and Mr Carey collapsed at 3.40pm while walking with his girlfriend, having suffered with breathing difficulties.

Members of the public, including an RAF doctor, attempted to revive Mr Carey.

The inquest heard that when paramedics arrived, Mr Carey was "silent, not breathing and pulse-less".

Health Correspondent Emily Morgan tweeted that the food chain said It's a "matter of great regret their high standards were not met" and offered their deepest condolences to the family of Owen Carey.

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But his father said: "I wish they [Byron] had been more honest up front, we knew from the outset that Owen had said 'I have allergies', he would always say that and I was very confident that he had said that.

"It's a shame that Byron's council had spent so much time trying to cast doubt over that and trying to cast doubt over the integrity of our witnesses, the family members that were there."

Owen's father said he wishes Byron had been more honest up front.

He adds: "And what's more of a problem and what we want to see changed is that the menu misled Owen, he had a full sense of security that what had been described as real chicken, contained nothing else other than chicken yet it was marinated in buttermilk."

Byron chief executive Simon Wilkinson said in a statement: "We take allergies extremely seriously and have robust procedures in place and although those procedures were in line with all the rules and guidelines, we train our staff to respond in the right way."

He added: "It is a matter of great regret and sadness that our high standards of communicating with our customers were not met during Owen's visit."

Mr Carey did not realise the chicken had been marinated because the buttermilk ingredient was not listed on the menu, the inquest heard. Credit: ITV News

He continued: "We believe we always did our best to meet our responsibilities but we know that this will be of no comfort to Owen's family.

"We have heard what the coroner said about the need to communicate about allergies and it is clear that the current rules and requirements are not enough and the industry needs to do more," he said.

Mr Wilkinson said: "We will make it our priority to work with our colleagues across the restaurant industry to ensure that standards and levels of awareness are improved."

The parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who died after eating an unlabelled sesame seed Pret A Manger baguette, called Mr Carey's inquest a "landmark judgment for millions of allergy sufferers in this country".

Natasha (centre) died after suffering a severe allergic reaction. Credit: PA

Natasha's father Nadim told ITV News that Owen's death "is certainly is a wake up call for the food industry in the UK, in particular the restaurant industry.

He continued: "Our country, England, has a huge issue with food allergies with more and more people allergic."

Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, Natasha's father, is backing Owen's Law. Credit: ITV News

He added that "Owen's death is so so unnecessary and tragic, it need not have ever happened, had there been a menu properly saying what was actually in the food, the ingredients, Owen would be with us today."

When asked about Owen's Law he said: "Owen's family are spot on, this country needs to have a change to the restaurant industry and the way they view and treat people with allergies, Owen's law would make complete sense."