A leading UK appliance brand traced and made safe only around half of the cookers it had sold of a model linked to a series of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning, an inquest has heard.
Beko put huge effort into finding thousands of customers who had bought the “potentially dangerous” cooker, the court was told. But while it was relatively easy to find customers who had bought from high street chains, many who had bought from smaller retailers could not be found, the inquest heard on Wednesday.
A coroner in Truro is hearing the inquest of five people from Cornwall who died in two separate incidents. They are among 18 people whose deaths in the UK and Ireland have been linked to Beko cookers, the court has heard.
Richard Smith, 30, and Kevin Branton, 34, were found dead at the cottage they shared as housemates in Saltash, south-east Cornwall, in November 2010.
In February 2013, husband and wife John and Audrey Cook, 90 and 86, their 47-year-old daughter Maureen and their pet dog died in their static caravan at Camborne, north Cornwall.
The five are believed to have died after inadvertently turning on the grills of their cookers rather than their ovens. With the grill door shut, this led to a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
Beko first became aware of potential problems with the cooker in November 2008 when a man died in Cork, Ireland, the inquest heard on Wednesday.
Andrew Mullen, the head of quality and sustainability for Beko, told the inquest that initially the company decided to make adaptations to the cookers it had in stock, but not to modify the thousands of cookers already sold.
The coroner, Geraint Williams, challenged this approach, saying: “It leaves, doesn’t it, an enormous risk? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be putting in place plans to contact the owners of those potentially dangerous cookers.”
Mullen replied that at that stage it seemed like a one-off incident involving a cooker that had been on the market since 2003, and the approach was judged “proportionate”.
But over the coming weeks it was revealed there had been further deaths between November 2008 and January 2009 in Kent, Doncaster and Belfast, and Beko began trying to trace all customers who had bought the type of cooker so that modifications could be made to their grill doors.
Mullen said some companies such as Dixons and Argos kept excellent records of customers, making it easier to trace them. But other smaller operations did not keep such good records. He confirmed they did not find the details of Smith, Branton or the Cook family, whose cookers had been bought from smaller, local businesses.
The coroner asked: “What was your success rate in contacting customers and being able to make the modification required?” Mullen said that by the end of 2009 the success rate had reached around 43%, and it was now up to 58%. “That doesn’t include products we believe have been disposed of through the normal end-of-life process,” he added.
Mullen said he did not believe the company would have reached more people had it undertaken a complete recall.
The inquest continues.