Yogurt firm boss breaks down in tears at inquest into death of woman with severe allergy

·3-min read

The maker of a supposedly dairy-free yoghurt used in a Pret a Manger vegan wrap has broken down in tears as she spoke at the inquest into the death of a woman with a severe allergy.

Celia Marsh, 42, collapsed in the street, unable to breathe, after she ate the flatbread that had been labelled as vegan from the sandwich chain's store in Bath, Somerset, on 27 December 2017.

The wrap had contained yogurt which was supposed to be vegan but was later found to have traces of dairy protein in it.

Mrs Marsh's death came in the wake of that of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in 2016 after eating a Pret baguette containing sesame seeds.

Avon Coroner's Court has heard the yoghurt was produced by Planet Coconut, which is the UK manufacturer and distributor of products developed by Australia-based yoghurt company CoYo.

Bethany Eaton, the managing director of Planet Coconut, wept as she gave evidence at the mother-of-five's inquest on Thursday.

She told the hearing she had set up Planet Coconut with her husband in 2011 to manufacture dairy-free products and purchased a licence from CoYo founder Henry Gosling for exclusive UK rights.

The court has heard the Planet Coconut yoghurt contained few ingredients - primarily coconut cream and 'HG1' starch supplied by Tate & Lyle plc.

The starch was identified as the possible source of the contamination.

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Mrs Eaton said: "Dairy-free is something I am passionate about which is why we bought the CoYo licence.

"I didn't ever dream it would contain dairy after he (Henry Gosling) sold me a licence.

"He said it was made in an allergen-free environment. He had a very good relationship with Tate & Lyle

"That was the reassurance he gave me and I respected that."

Maria Voisin, the senior coroner for Avon, asked Mrs Eaton whether she considered testing the starch.

She replied: "We never tested the product because I was assured and believed it was being made in an allergen-free environment.

"I was told there was a separate line or facility that was entirely allergen-free and that's what we relied upon."

The witness said that since Mrs Marsh's death all products are now tested, irrespective of the source.

'I'm angry and upset'

Mrs Eaton began crying under questioning from barrister Jeremy Hyam KC, representing Mrs Marsh's family.

Fighting back tears, she said: "I am a bit angry and upset about this.

"I didn't just rely on his word, I relied on the fact that I had been sold a licence for a dairy-free product and it has been manufactured by Tate & Lyle with CoYo and created a very popular dairy-free yogurt product in Australia."

The inquest also heard from Guy Meakin, interim managing director of Pret a Manger, who expressed his "extreme sorrow" to the family of Mrs Marsh for their loss.

"If we had known it had contained milk products we would never have used it," he said.

He said all products were now labelled with ingredients and Pret had introduced allergen risk assessments.