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Safety call over fridge fire death

A coroner will urge the Government to overhaul consumer safety standards after a father who was able to save his two children died from a fire caused by a faulty fridge-freezer.

Santosh Benjamin Muthiah, who was known as Mr Benjamin, died in November 2010 two days after he was overcome by smoke his home in Wealdstone, north London.

The 36-year-old helped his two daughters, one aged three and the other a baby of three months, to safety via a window but was unable to escape the house himself.

Coroner Andrew Walker today accepted wide-ranging recommendations put forward by Hertfordshire Trading Standards and London Fire Brigade about the way in which safety problems are recorded and how irresponsible manufacturers should be punished.

Lawyers representing Mr Muthiah's family said the changes "would stop manufacturers keeping safety issues secret" and force them to take action.

Mr Walker recorded a narrative verdict at North London Coroner's Court, which blamed a defrost timer on the family's Beko fridge-freezer for the blaze.

The inquest previously heard that Beko, one of Europe's largest white goods brands, had been aware of a possible safety issue with components as far back as 2003 but failed to rectify it.

Mr Walker said he could not be sure what caused the defrost timer to fail and said a product recall to fix the problematic component might not have prevented the blaze.

The product, which had been subject to internal review, was not recalled until after Mr Benjamin's death.

Former managing director at Beko Clayton Witter said the risk had even been judged as not adequate enough to warrant a safety recall despite a"serious risk" to safety.

Speaking after the hearing, the family's lawyer, Jill Patterson, said the inquest had highlighted problems with regulating products and product recall.

"The changes could potentially overhaul consumer product safety regulation," she said.

"The recommendations would mean emerging problems will be picked up by the public and authorities rather than someone having to die until something is done about it.

"They put the power back in to the hands of consumers and stop manufacturers from keeping their problems secret."

Among the more than 10 recommendations were calls for the first national online database open to consumers to view and report emerging safety problems with appliances, which Ms Patterson said was "incredibly important" in forcing manufacturers to openly recognise problems.

Manufacturers who fail to notify customers of safety problems could also face imprisonment and unlimited fines.

Currently manufacturers can be fined £5,000, compared with an average cost of £11 million to recall a white goods appliance, the inquest heard.

A code of practice would also be introduced for manufacturers to follow to protect the public.

A statement issued by Mrs Benjamin following the conclusion of the inquest read: "What happened to us as a family should never happen again to another household.

"We sincerely hope that this legal exercise results in changes to prevent incidents of this nature in the future. We as a family want changes made to legislation governing product safety.

"When we bought our fridge, we trusted the manufacturer for a safe product.

"Manufacturers, producers and their retailers should be held more accountable for their actions, or their lack of response to consumer safety concerns.

"The value of a human life is priceless."

A spokesman for the Business, Innovation and Skills Department said: "We are yet to receive the coroner's report in this particular case but when we do we will, of course, carefully consider the recommendations and respond in due course."

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