'They could have killed us': Surrey restaurant hit with £13k fine after carbon monoxide leak into flats

A restaurant that “could have killed people" living above it when deadly carbon monoxide leaked from its kitchens has been prosecuted and fined almost £13,000.

The Okra Lounge in Station Approach, owned and operated by Okra Lounge Ltd, West Byfleet, had a history of complaints about smoke entering the flats above, a court heard.

The problem even led to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service installing carbon monoxide detectors a month before the incident. Woking Borough Council statement added: "[If not for the detector] the case could have been much more serious, potentially resulting in fatalities."

A man who lives above the restaurant, Michael Reeves, 46, Recalling the Friday July 14 2023. night, said: “The firefighters told me I had to open all the windows and leave the flat. Neighbours were already downstairs and one was being given oxygen. At first I was feeling ok and decided not to go to the hospital but by Friday I started to feel rough and Saturday I went to hospital.”

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Mr Reeves claimed at the time of the incident that his carbon monoxide monitor showed a reading of 67. He continued that the fire brigade told him people are typically able to work in buildings with a level up to around 30: “So that’s more than double what gas workers would be happy to work in,” he said.

The case was brought to court by Woking Borough Council on Monday, April 29, when one of the restaurant’s directors. Ilhan Coban, pleaded guilty for breaching health and safety legislation at Guildford Magistrates’ Court. The court heard how the restaurant had failed to clear coals from its grill and switched its kitchen’s ventilation system off before closing - resulting in high levels of carbon monoxide escaping into the flats.

Two people were taken to hospital that night with elevated levels of carbon monoxide in their blood; another was treated by paramedics for carbon monoxide inhalation at the scene. Magistrates imposed a fine of £12,837.50 including surcharges and costs.

The resident, Mr Reeves said: “We are pleased that they have been made to pay for their mistakes, which will always leave a bad taste in our mouths. Worse was that they never personally came to apologise or even come to see how we were.

“They never came to check how we were. It was a restaurant we've used quite a few times, it was good food but we’ve never gone in there again. I'm just disappointed they didn't come and check on us, We were living above them and they could have killed us.”

Councillor Liam Lyons, Woking Borough Council ’s planning and regulation lead, said: “This successful prosecution shows how seriously, we at the council, take the health and safety of our residents. Business owners need to take responsibility for their actions and operations, making sure that the safety of both their employees and the wider public is preserved.

“We hope that the large fine Okra Lounge Ltd was ordered to pay will serve as an incentive for other businesses to keep on top of their operations, and to make sure due diligence is paid to health and safety regulations.”

The owner of the Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant, Okra Lounge, Ilhan Coban, apologised for the incident at the time, back in June 2023. he told SurreyLive: “We’ve been taking the coals, whatever’s left from the barbeque, we’ve been taking out. Last night they forget, I forget. Because it was busy, I went to do shopping at a wholesaler in Croydon that’s open 24 hours. I went there for two hours and when I came back all the fire brigade were here and the ambulance was here.

“Obviously inside when we left that little coal in there gives out carbon monoxide. We’ve been doing it [clearing the barbeque] and never had any problem, but last night they forgot it. But obviously, it’s my fault, I didn’t check it when I come. I apologise.”