A potentially fatal error in a university experiment left two students fighting for their lives after mistakenly ingesting enough caffeine for 300 cups of coffee.
Sports science students Alex Rossetto and Luke Parkin were each given a hundred times more caffeine than intended due to a calculation error at Northumbria University, which has been fined £400,000 over the mistake.
The pair had volunteered to take part in the test which aimed to measure the effect of caffeine on exercise.
After being given the wrong dosage, the second-year students suffered violent side-effects and were rushed to hospital with “life-threatening reactions” in March 2015.
Prosecutor Adam Farrer told Newcastle Crown Court that the pair should have been given 0.3g of caffeine, but were in fact given 30g. There is 0.1g in the average cup of coffee.
This led to them being admitted to an intensive care unit and both receiving dialysis.
Mr Farrer said: ”It would be mixed with water and orange juice but they were erroneously given 30.7g and 32g of caffeine, which was 100 times the dosage they should have been given.”
He told the court that death has previously been reported after consumption of just 18g and the students were left in a “life-threatening condition”.
The university, which has more than 30,000 students and a budget of almost £250 million, had switched from using caffeine tablets to powder, which, he said, meant supervision was vital.
Mr Farrer added: “The staff were not experienced or competent enough and they had never done it on their own before.
“The university took no steps to make sure the staff knew how to do it.”
The court was told about a catalogue of errors that led to the overdose, which Mr Farrer said “could easily have been fatal”.
This included the calculation being done on a mobile phone, the decimal point being put in the wrong place and there being no risk assessment for the test.
Mr Rossetto, who has gone on to study a Masters degree at the university, was kept in hospital for six days, reported short-term memory loss and lost 26.5lb in weight.
Mr Parkin was treated for two days in intensive care and lost 22lb in weight.
Both men have since made a full physical recovery but are also proceeding with their own civil claims.
Judge Edward Bindloss imposed a £400,000 fine on the university and also ordered them to pay £26,468 in costs plus a victim surcharge.
A statement from the university said: “The university is genuinely sorry for what happened in this case. This was an isolated incident. We reacted promptly to what took place.
“This included fully co-operating with the HSE investigation and the subsequent prosecution. The university wishes to emphasise that the welfare of students and staff is paramount at all times.”
Top pic: PA