Five people gassed to death may have ‘accidentally turned on grill instead of oven’

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Five people who were gassed to death may have died after accidentally turning on their grills rather than their ovens to cook food.

An inquest heard today that a plate of uncooked sausages was found in the Beko oven of a family of three who died in their static caravan home in Camborne, Cornwall.

And a frozen pie was also found in the oven compartment of a Beko cooker at a house shared by two friends who died in Saltash, Cornwall.

Det Sgt Jonathan Bray, of Devon and Cornwall police, who investigated potential criminal allegations against the manufacturers, said he was aware of other deaths in cases with the same cookers in the UK and Eire.

The detective said on November 11, 2010, Richard Smith, aged 30, came home from work and his lodger Kevin Branton, 32, was already there at their home in Saltash.

Two days later their bodies were found by Mr Smith’s father Brian.

In 2013 John Cook, 90, his wife Maureen, 86, and their 47-year-old daughter Audrey were found dead at their home in Camborne.

Post mortems showed that all five died from carbon monoxide poisoning and the cases were linked by the Beko cookers.

Det Sgt Bray said in both cases he came to the same conclusion that they had “accidentally turned on the wrong knob”.

He said uncooked food was found in the oven compartment but the grill was on and the grill door was closed.

The officer said he believed both set of victims had made a mistake saying: “It’s purely an assumption really, nothing more than that – the grill was on and the grill door was closed.”

Brian Smith discovered his son dead upstairs and his lodger dead downstairs on November 13, 2010 – but there had been no contact from them after November 11.

He said the Cooks lived in a one bedroom static home in Camborne and a neighbour acted as a “carer” for them because of their health problems.

The neighbour raised the alarm on February 23, 2013, because they had failed to get up to go shopping and their dog was not barking.

Frail John Cook, 90, was found dead in his chair, his wife Maureen, 86, dead in the kitchen area and their daughter Audrey, 47, dead on her bedroom floor. Their pet dog was also dead.

Det Sgt Bray said: “The grill was turned on and the oven felt warm.

“The grill door was shut and there were uncooked sausages at the bottom.”

He concluded the “wrong knob had been turned on” because the sausages were in the oven and the grill had been turned on accidentally and the grill door was shut.

The officer said in September 2008 a person died in Cork, Eire, and “it became apparent there was an issue with the cooker itself” although this was not a Beko cooker but “the same product, under a different brand name, different companies, but the same cooker unit”.

He said there were 13 Beko models manufactured by its parent company in Turkey where “full door seals seemed to be an issue” and Beko was “trying to find resolution” and make changes to those manufactured and sold.

With the grill door shut there would be a lack of oxygen causing a build up of carbon monoxide and by February 2009 another 23 models were highlighted as being potentially dangerous.

Det Sgt Bray said the Beko cooker that led to the deaths of Richard Smith and Kevin Branton was one that was on the list of 13 Beko models that was disclosed in late 2008.

The one that killed the Cook family was one from the second list of 23 models which involved conversion kits for use with LPG rather than natural gas – and they were the only victims of that.

Some other victims who died may have bought cookers which were branded by a different company name, not just Beko, but they were all made by the same Turkish parent company.

The Truro inquest heard Richard Smith’s father bought the Beko cooker on New Year’s Eve 2008 from a Plymouth company which went into liquidation three months later.

Beko later admitted 23 charges for not notifying Trading Standards about the issues surrounding the second list of 23 models about the risks from some cookers.

But Det Sgt Bray said the police and Crown Prosecution Service decided that no criminal charges would be brought.

Beko was investigated to see if it was “culpable of corporate manslaughter” over the deaths of five people in Cornwall, the inquest heard.

But no criminal charges were brought against them.

Coroner Geraint Williams was told by Det Sgt Bray that there were 18 deaths in the UK and also in Ireland which had been linked to cookers made by Beko’s Turkish parent company Arcelik.

Phil Poolley of Internek, a product testing and certification company, said his firm was involved in testing the cookers to ensure they complied with British and European safety standards.

He said at that time this did not require gas ovens to be tested with the grill doors closed unless the maker’s specified they could be used in that way.

The coroner asked if it wasn’t “glaringly obvious” that someone could mistakenly close a cooker door or turn on the wrong knob.

Mr Poolley replied:”It is now.

“In hindsight it is foreseeable because it had happened quite a lot.”

He said the standard has since been changed.

The inquest continues.