A coroner has been urged to record unlawful killing verdicts into the deaths of five people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by their gas cookers.
Friends Richard Smith, 30, and Kevin Branton, 34, died in Saltash in November 2010, while husband and wife John and Audrey Cook, aged 90 and 86, and their daughter Maureen, 47, were found dead inside their static caravan in Camborne in February 2013.
They all died from carbon monoxide poisoning after accidentally turning on the grill instead of the oven.
Kevin Branton, 32, and Richard Smith, 30, from Saltash, Cornwall, died on November 13, 2010, passing away after inhaling too much of the deadly gas which was released by the cooker
Cornwall Coroner’s Court has heard that if the grill was used with the door shut, fatal levels of poisonous gas built up due to a design fault with a rubber seal around the door.
The household appliances were manufactured in Turkey by Arcelik and have been linked to 18 deaths in the UK and Ireland from carbon monoxide poisoning.
A total of 60,000 Arcelik cookers were affected by the design fault and half were sold in the UK under its Beko brand, and the rest under its Glen Dimplex brand.
The inquest heard evidence that Beko, which is Britain’s number one selling appliance brand, knew the cookers posed a ‘serious risk’ to health but ignored the problem for several weeks.
Beko was first told by the Irish authorities on November 13 2008 of the death of Alexis Landry in Co Cork earlier that month after using a Glen Dimplex cooker.
Arcelik started testing all gas cooker model types on November 19 and then on December 2 provided Beko with a list of affected models.
On December 1, Beko also learned that a coroner was investigating the deaths of pensioners Boris and Vilma Green in Doncaster two weeks after Mr Landry.
In legal submissions, barrister Rob Harland, representing the families of Mr Smith, Mr Branton and the Cooks, invited assistant Cornwall coroner Geraint Williams to record an unlawful killing conclusion.
‘There are accepted or else unavoidable findings of failings in this case,’ he told the coroner.
‘In relation to Beko we say it must be the evidence that as of November 19 2008 when the testing was being carried out by Arcelik or at the meeting in Ireland on November 27 where it was clear there was a problem with natural gas cookers as well as LPG cookers, or when Arcelik provide the list of affected models on December 2.
Alfred Cook, 90, who was also known to friends as John, and his 86-year-old wife Audrey were two of the people killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from the faulty cooker in Camborne
‘At this stage Beko knew all of the matters they needed to know, on their own evidence, which required them to take rapid action and this was a serious risk.’
Mr Harland said from early December Beko should have taken steps to prevent further sales of its cookers in the UK, which would have stopped Mr Smith’s father, Brian, buying his son the cooker on December 31.
‘We say that rapid action, on their own evidence, includes products in the supply chain being stopped,’ he said.
‘We say that Beko accepts the products in the supply chain should have been stopped.
‘We say that is the unavoidable requirement upon them under the Department of Trade and Industry guidance, which while of course is not mandatory, sets out what is expected of producers, such as Beko, in this situation and talks of action being taken immediately.
‘This is a situation where time is of the essence and you’ve heard that from any number of different bodies and from independent guidance.
‘The failings we say that occurred were repeated. We say that because it is not only when Beko was aware of the problem they should have acted but they had plenty of opportunities after that.’
Ben Compton QC, representing Beko, suggested to the coroner that the ‘high bar’ for recording a verdict of unlawful killing was not met in this case.
The Beko oven which caused the death of Richard Smith and Kevin Branton in Cornwall in 2010. The inquest at Cornwall Coroner’s Court heard Beko did not notify trading standards of all deaths related to ovens, while one expert said it was ‘obvious,’ that it ‘wasn’t a safe product’
He said the time frame the coroner was dealing with was ‘very short’ and included Christmas and the new year period.
‘On the vital question to whether earlier corrective action, such as suspension of sales, would have prevented the sale of the cooker to Mr Smith, there is a complete lacuna in the evidence,’ Mr Compton said.
‘The only witness to be asked about it was Andrew Mullen and he said it possibly could have prevented it but that was against the background of where he only had limited knowledge of the process.
‘What we are looking for is appropriate evidence which helps you make this link, and it isn’t there. Simply saying it could possibly have been stopped isn’t sufficient.’
Mr Compton added: ‘One of the extraordinary aspects of this case is that these cookers had been out in the field since 2003, many thousands of them, and it is quite extraordinary and without explanation that we have this cluster within a short period of time.’
The coroner is expected to make his findings on Monday.