A church harvest supper in a village pub ended in tragedy when a member of the congregation was killed and 31 others suffered food poisoning after eating a shepherd’s pie filled with hash that had was poorly prepared by a chef in a hurry.
Elizabeth Neuman, 92, vomited several times after eating the pie and died as other parishioners fell “from an unpleasant illness” and three of those present only escaped because they were vegetarians, the Reading Court learned.
The cook, John Croucher, who at the time was a chef at Crewe Arms in the Northamptonshire village of Hinton-in-the-Hedges, was given a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, after have admitted a charge of food regulation violation.
Defending himself in court, Croucher, 40, said: “I hate to say it, I really hate to say it, but I think I was rushed. I was rushing. He said he had worked in kitchens for 20 years and was now “a better chef” due to “horrible and horrible circumstances”.
He added: “remorse is an understatement. It is something that I will never forget. Because of this I’m a better chef and it’s just a shame the cost must have been what it was.
Judge Sarah Campbell said: “On October 8, 2018, 35 villagers came to Crewe Arms for a harvest meal. Thirty-two people ate the shepherd’s pie. A healthy person died from gastrointestinal bleeding caused by vomiting. No sentence that I pronounce can reflect the loss caused to the family.
“Croucher was the chef that night. The mince was not cooked properly and was placed in a saucepan with ice water. Croucher needed to go, so put the mince in cling film and put it in the fridge overnight. After leaving it, he baked it again and added hot mashed potatoes. It did not take the temperature when it was served.
The court heard that members of the Holy Trinity Church congregation did not want retaliation against the pub, its owner, Neil Billingham, or Croucher, who no longer works there.
But the judge expressed concern over the pub’s record, saying: “The Crewe Arms is an important pub for the local community. I have read many references from community members. They all said it was a one-time mistake, but based on the evidence, it wasn’t a one-time mistake.
“The pub should have taken steps to improve. Inspections in 2015 gave it three stars and in 2017 only gave it one star.
Defending Billingham and his company, the Bobcat Pub Co, Christopher Hopkins told the judge: “You will see Billingham visited the local residents who were affected shortly after, to apologize for the incident. He also asks me to express his condolences to the Neuman family on his behalf.
Billingham, of Northampton, who admitted three food violation charges was fined £ 9,000 and court costs £ 1,000. His company has been fined almost £ 3,000.