The manufacturer of cookers linked to five deaths in Cornwall has told an inquest it was not aware of the risk of carbon monoxide building up if its appliances were used with the grill doors closed.
Three men and two women died of carbon monoxide poisoning in two separate tragedies in Cornwall after they used Beko gas cookers.
Housemates Kevin Branton, 34, and Richard Smith, 30, were found dead at the cottage they shared in Saltash in November 2010 apparently after using the cooker grill with the door closed.
In February 2013, husband and wife John and Audrey Cook, aged 90 and 86, their 47-year-old daughter Maureen and their pet dog died in February 2013 after using a Beko cooker in their static caravan at Camborne.
On the first day of the inquest in Truro, Beko’s parent company, Arçelik, which is based in Turkey, said its objective was to make products that were affordable and safe.
Product designer Alp Karahasanoğlu said an instruction manual for the cooker said the grill should be used with the door open.
However, Karahasanoğlu said this was not because the company believed keeping it shut was dangerous but because it was the more efficient way of cooking. “No one at Arçelik was aware of this risk until these tragic deaths came to our notice,” he said.
Karahasanoğlu said safety tests tried to anticipate ways in which customers might operate a product but that it was “not always possible to see into the minds of the end user”.
He said: “No one foresaw the possibility that the grill might be used with the grill door shut.”
Karahasanoğlu said he believed a rubber seal that allowed a buildup of gases was so tight to stop the door rattling and making a noise when it was closed. The design was later changed to allow an air gap.
The inquest also heard that the UK government became aware of five fatalities linked to the use of gas cookers with grill doors closed in the UK and Ireland in early 2009 – more than 18 months before Branton and Smith died. There were deaths in Doncaster, Kent, Belfast and Cork, the hearing was told.
In 2012 an inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death for the two housemates but this was quashed by the high court in London in 2015 after lawyers for the families said more evidence had come to light.
At the high court in 2015, Mr Justice Ouseley said a new inquest on the two housemates could be linked to that of the Cook family.
Ouseley said that one of the problems, not considered at the earlier inquest, was that the testing process “failed to recognise that even careful, ordinary users, if they were not alerted by notices on the machine … could easily find they had used the machine in a way which could lead to their deaths without anything abnormal striking them about it.”
The families of the five Cornish people are being represented by the law firm Leigh Day. Speaking before the inquest began on Monday, it argued the inquest has relevance to the UK’s overall product safety regime. A spokesperson said: “This case is of great importance not only to the bereaved families, but to all consumers nationwide.”
Beko claims to be the UK’s number one best-selling large home appliances brand with sales of over 30 million appliances in the UK.
The inquest, due to last up to seven days, continues.
— to www.theguardian.com