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Liquid nitrogen cocktail wine bar fined after teen Gaby Scanlon had stomach removed

Published 17/09/2015

Gaby Scanlon (centre) who had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail mixed with liquid nitrogen bought on her 18th birthday from Oscar's bar in Lancaster, arrives at Preston Crown Court in Lancashire. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Gaby Scanlon (centre) who had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail mixed with liquid nitrogen bought on her 18th birthday from Oscar's bar in Lancaster, arrives at Preston Crown Court in Lancashire. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Oscar's Wine Bar pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to one count of failing in the duty of an employer to ensure the safety of persons not in its employment

A wine bar has been fined £100,000 after a teenager needed her stomach removing after drinking a smoking liquid nitrogen cocktail handed to her for free.

Gaby Scanlon, now 20, had been with friends at the Oscar's Wine Bar and Bistro in Lancaster when she was given the Nitro-Jagermeister shot in celebration of her 18th birthday.

But upon drinking the normally £3.95 drink she described feeling "agonising pain" and was forced to loosen her clothing as smoke billowed from her mouth and nose.

Preston Crown Court heard that she was left close to death after experiencing "an explosion" in her stomach four seconds after it was poured for her.

She said: "I turned to the man and asked if it was okay to drink, he said 'yes'. Smoke was coming from my nose and mouth. Straight away I knew something was not right.

"My stomach expanded. The manager said nothing about waiting for it to die down."

Miss Scanlon from Heysham, Lancashire, was taken to the Lancaster Royal Infirmary for surgery to remove her stomach and her small bowel connected with her oesophagus to save her life.

Oscar's Wine Bar and Bistro, which had only opened five months prior to the incident on October 4 2012, pleaded guilty to one count of failing in the duty of an employer to ensure the safety of persons not in its employment, admitting it failed to ensure the shot cocktail was safe for consumption.

No risk assessment had been carried out to the dangers.

In passing sentence Judge Pamela Badley said that "failings fell very far short of standards".

The bar had sold a range of cocktails using liquid nitrogen in order to create a smoking effect after director Andrew Dunn saw similar drinks in the Berkeley Hotel in London.

He was said to have found them "alluring and intrigued by the dramatic effect".

But a senior health and safety officer Peter Lord, who visited the bar in May 2012 before the incident said he had concerns about the drinks and sent a letter with guidance on liquid nitrogen usage, which was met with no response.

The court heard that Miss Scanlon and her friends had been poured four of the drinks before she was told "the birthday girl could have a free shot".

A verdict of not guilty was accepted by the Crown against bar employee Matthew Harding, who denied failing in his duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others at work.

Miss Scanlon had not been given any advice, with one friend saying that the barman had said "drink it while it's still smoking".

Prosecutor Barry Berlin said: "Immediately on consuming the drink she was taken violently ill, retching and vomiting and smoking from her nose and mouth. The liquid nitrogen itself is a dangerous product."

Upon consuming the liquid nitrogen which is used for freezing warts, internal tissue was killed and the lining of her stomach was perforated.

The court was told that three years on, Miss Scanlon still suffers from pains.

Mr Berlin added: "The investigation in this case uncovered serious systematic failings by this company and director."

Training notes were said to have been "loose" with staff told to wait 10 seconds until the liquid nitrogen had boiled off before consumption.

But the rule - devised by the family-run company who also run BR Guest Limited and Oscar's Travel and Leisure - was said to have been an "arbitrary figure" .

Mr Berlin added: "The Crown say the company is culpable for the injuries. They failed to ensure the safety of its customers. They served liquid nitrogen shots in cocktails without considering any suitable risk assessment. The serious injuries suffered show a failure by the company to ensure her safety.

"They knew it was dangerous and they didn't properly police it."

Director Andrew Dunn, of Old Earswick, York, pleaded not guilty to being part of a corporate employer which failed in its duty to ensure the safety of persons not in its employment.

The prosecution offered no evidence against him after a payment of £20,000 towards court costs was made.

In mitigation Mr Kevin McLoughlin said that the family had been left "mortified" and apologised to Miss Scanlon and her family for the "errors and misjudgments that were made".

He added: "The company and the family are truly sorry. At no time did they see anything warning them of the risks of ingestion. The essence of this calamity was the ignorance on the part of the company."

Judge Badley said the bar had shown a "flagrant disregard".

She added: "The failures fell very far from short of standards. She was 18 years old, with her friends, she had her trust in those who were proving the cocktails. The drink was a novelty, a cocktail designed to fascinate and allure customers, such as parties.

"It looked dramatic and fun. It was, of course, sold for profit.

"It's astonishing that no risk assessment had ever been carried out. There was a failure to heed warnings and advice from a senior health and safety officer. Overall there is evidence of serious systemic failings within the organisation."

In a statement, Miss Scanlon said: "What happened has had a devastating impact on my health, and nothing is going to change that, but I am relieved that the court case has finally come to an end.

"I would never have touched the drink if I'd known what it would do and I would urge other people to avoid them, it's just not worth the risk.

"If there's even the smallest chance that the same thing could happen to someone else, then these drinks shouldn't be served at all."

Patricia Noone, from law firm, Slater and Gordon, which is representing Miss Scanlon in a civil claim, added: "Bars and restaurants are required by law to make sure what they're serving to the public is safe.

"Oscar's Wine Bar failed in its duty and it is disappointing that they left it so long to take responsibility."

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