Yogurt manufacturer tearfully speaks of regret at inquest into woman’s death

·4-min read

The manufacturer of a supposedly dairy-free yogurt used in a Pret a Manger vegan wrap has tearfully spoken of her regret at trusting others involved in the production process, an inquest heard.

Bethany Eaton, the managing director of Planet Coconut, broke down in tears as she gave evidence at the inquest of mother-of-five Celia Marsh.

Mrs Marsh, 42, suffered a fatal allergic reaction on December 27 2017, shortly after eating a super-veg rainbow flatbread.

Celia Marsh, 42, died after eating a super-veg rainbow flatbread from a Pret a Manger store in Bath (Leigh Day/PA)
Celia Marsh, 42, died after eating a super-veg rainbow flatbread from a Pret a Manger store in Bath (Leigh Day/PA)

The dental nurse, from Melksham, Wiltshire had a severe dairy allergy and collapsed in the street after eating the sandwich bought from the chain’s store in Bath, Somerset.

She had been on a post-Christmas shopping trip with her husband and three of her daughters at the time.

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.

Mrs Eaton 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.

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.

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

“I had a dairy-free facility and I had ingredients that I believed were dairy-free from the assurances I was given,” she said.

“I did not believe our product contained dairy. He sold me a licence for a dairy-free yogurt and I had to buy the product from him.

The family of Celia Marsh with their lawyers outside the coroner's court (Ben Birchall/PA)
The family of Celia Marsh with their lawyers outside the coroner’s court (Ben Birchall/PA)

“He was very protective of his product and rightly or wrongly I respected that. I did not believe that Henry and Tate & Lyle would produce a product that contained dairy in it.

“We all believed there was no risk because it was made in an allergy-free environment.”

Fighting back tears, she added: “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.

“I regret buying a licence and trusting the word of someone else and that’s what I regret.

“I regret that the inquiries I made were not with Henry Gosling and I relied upon his assurances and that’s my regret.”

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.

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.

Ms Ednan-Laperouse had a sesame allergy.

The tragedy sparked an overhaul of food labelling laws. Retailers are now required to display full ingredient and allergen labelling on every food item made on the premises and pre-packed for direct sale, including sandwiches, cakes and salads.