Chef sentenced after undercooked shepherd's pie caused fatal food poisoning

04 December 2021 by
Chef sentenced after undercooked shepherd's pie caused fatal food poisoning

A chef who served parishioners a meal that gave 31 people food poisoning and resulted in the death of a 92-year-old woman has been handed a suspended sentence.

Church-goer Elizabeth Neuman could not stop vomiting after eating an undercooked shepherd's pie, the main course of a harvest festival supper. Only three of the congregation escaped food poisoning - because they were vegetarians.

John Croucher, head chef of the Crewe Arms, told a judge at Reading Crown Court that he had "been rushing," which was why corners were cut in the preparation of the pie.

The court heard that the chef had placed partially cooked mince in a pan with iced water the night before the meal. He then wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge. He cooked it again the following day, adding mashed potato, but did not check the temperature before serving.

Croucher, who no longer works at the pub in Hinton-in-the-Hedges, Brackley, Northamptonshire, was given a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, after admitting a charge of contravening food regulations. Judge Sarah Campbell heard that prior to the food poisoning tragedy, the Crewe Arms had a poor food hygiene score.

Defending himself in court, Croucher told the judge: "I hate to say it, I really hate to say it, but I think I was rushed. I was rushing." He said he had been a chef for 20 years and was now "a better chef" because of the food poisonings.

Representing himself in court, Croucher, who has since left the pub and now lives with his brother in Ely, Cambridgeshire, said: "I have been a chef for more than 20 years. I trained when I was 16 in Camden."

He told Judge Campbell: "A horrible, horrible circumstance happened and it's something you take with you. I now second guess and third guess everything.

"I never had a coaching session when I was working for the Crewe Arms. I hate to say it, I really hate to say it, but I think I was rushed. I was rushing. After the incident we all worked very hard to get the Crewe Arms five stars. We went for it and we obtained it. We got very good marks.

"Remorse is an understatement. This is something I will never forget. Because of it, I am a better chef and it is just a shame the cost of it had to be what it was. "

Pub landlord Neil Billingham had previously admitted three charges of contravening food regulations. Croucher, who faced one count of contravening food regulations, also admitted the charge when he initially appeared at Wellingborough Magistrates' Court, Northamptonshire, on 25 November 2019.

Sentencing, Judge Campbell, said: "On October 8 2018, 35 villagers went to the Crewe Arms for a harvest meal. Thirty-two people ate the shepherd's pie.

"A healthy and well person died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage induced from vomiting. No sentence I pass can reflect the loss caused to the family.

"All pleaded guilty at the first chance in magistrates' court. The case took more than two years for the sentencing to take place, a delay which has no doubt taken a toll on all associated with the case.

"Croucher was the chef that night. The mince was not cooked properly and was placed into a pan with iced water. Croucher needed to leave, so put the mince in cling film and put it in the fridge overnight.

"Having left it, he cooked it again and added warm mashed potato. He did not take the temperature when it was served.

"The Crewe Arms is an important pub to the local community. I have read many references from members of the community, who all say Mr Billingham worked hard to maintain the support of the community, including Ms Neuman's daughter.

"They have all said that this was a one-off mistake but looking at the evidence this was not a one-off mistake. The pub should have been taking steps to be improving. Inspections in 2015 gave it three stars and in 2017 gave it only a one-star."

Croucher was sentenced to four months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months. Billingham was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay £1,000 court costs.

His company, the Bobcat Pub Co, was fined £2,928.98 - the only sum of money not indebted to the HMRC or to pay off the remaining mortgage on the pub itself.

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