A computer programmer died from a severe allergic reaction after eating less than a slice of a takeaway pizza that he did not know contained nuts, a coroner has ruled.
Mr Atkinson, a popular Newcastle University graduate who was originally from Leeds, swiftly became ill at his home in Jesmond in July 2020 after eating less than a slice of his pizza. He died around an hour later in hospital.
The cause of death was anaphylaxis caused by eating peanuts in the curry, the inquest at Newcastle Civic Centre ruled on Monday.
Coroner Karen Dilks returned a narrative conclusion at the end of the inquest, outlining how Mr Atkinson ordered the food on an app, that he did not contact the restaurant directly to inform them of his allergies and that he did not have an EpiPen available once he started to feel ill.
She said the restaurant did not say on its menus that a mixed nut powder containing as much as 99 per cent peanut was used in making its chicken tikka masala.
To prevent future deaths, the coroner will write to the Department of Health to urge GPs to regularly review patients who have allergies and educate them about the importance of carrying EpiPens.
She will also write to the relevant authorities in support of Owen’s Law, which is calling for restaurants to state in writing the allergens their dishes include.
But Mrs Dilks will not make any recommendations to the three major food ordering apps, which includes Deliveroo, about how they could mitigate the risks for any customers who may have an allergy.
She finished the hearing by offering her sincere condolences to Mr Atkinson’s family who attended the inquest, which started last Monday.
Following the coroner’s conclusion, Mr Atkinson’s parents, Stuart and Jill Atkinson, wrote on their CrowdJustice page: “On 10 July 2020, our lives changed forever when our beautiful son was cruelly taken from this world.
“James had so much to live for, he was only 23 and had recently graduated from Newcastle University in computer science and had started a promising career as a computer programmer. He was a fantastic boy and lit up any room. We miss him very much every day.”
The inquest was previously told that the Dadyal restaurant menus mentioned coconut, almond and cashew in the ingredients of their chicken tikka masala, but not the peanut powder it actually contained.
Gulfam Ulhaq, 58, who ran the restaurant for his brother who owned it, said it was up to customers to inform staff if they had an allergy. Through an interpreter, he told the inquest: “They could lose their life. It is the responsibility of the person who has the allergy to mention it.”
Coroner Karen Dilks asked him what he would do if an order contained a warning that the customer had a peanut allergy. Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “I would have refused.”
The hearing was told that Mr Atkinson used Google to find out if chicken tikka masala contained peanuts, but he did not call the restaurant to inform them of his allergy.
The Dadyal has been closed for almost two years, the coroner was told.
On the night of the tragedy, the inquest heard Mr Atkinson rang for an ambulance while his flatmates Luke Isley, 26, and Robert Raistrick, 27, looked for his EpiPen without success.
Craig Hassall KC, for the family, said that when the paramedics arrived, Mr Atkinson reportedly told them as he struggled to breathe that he was going to die.
Home Office pathologist Dr Jennifer Bolton said Mr Atkinson was “gasping for air” when the ambulance crew arrived.
By the time he was taken downstairs, he was assessed to have a Glasgow coma score of three, Dr Bolton said, and was “profoundly unconscious”.
Mr Atkinson was taken to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary at 8.40pm on July 10 2020 and, despite the efforts of medics to resuscitate him, his death was confirmed at 9.21pm.
Toxicology tests showed he had no alcohol or other drugs in his system at the time and so his decision-making ability was not impaired, the inquest heard.
Dr Bolton said Mr Atkinson was known to be “usually very good” at monitoring his allergies, having been diagnosed with a peanut allergy 10 years earlier.
Asked if the outcome would have been different had an EpiPen been found for Mr Atkinson, Dr Bolton said: “Even with the appropriate use of an EpiPen, there’s no guarantee that an individual will survive, but it certainly increases your chances.”
At the start of the hearing, Mr Atkinson’s parents, Jill and Stuart, together read out a pen-portrait of their son, describing him as “loving, kind and caring”.
On behalf of the family, his father said: “James had a gift of making others happy, checking in on friends and offering support when needed. To be in his company with his amazing sense of humour and infectious laugh was a privilege. First on the dance floor and last to leave, James lived life to its fullest but also had a sensitive and thoughtful side. His whole family meant the world to him. He was loving, kind and caring.
“James’s sudden death has left an insurmountable hole in our hearts. He had his whole life ahead of him full of future plans and dreams that will not be realised or witnessed by his family. No more memories to make.
“We were blessed to have him for the 23 years that we did. He is irreplaceable. However, to honour him we hold a forever space in our hearts and carry him with us always – our beautiful boy, James.”