A former boss of a white foods firm that manufactured a fridge-freezer which caught alight and caused a fatal fire in Wealdstone admitted he knew the appliances could cause serious injury but denies knowing they could kill, an inquest heard today.
Santosh Benjamin, 36, of Grant Road, Wealdstone, died saving his wife Jennifer and two children during a blaze caused by their faulty Beko fridge freezer in November 2010.
North London's Coroners Court in Barnet heard Beko's then-managing director, Clayton Witter, confirm he knew that there were some appliances which could have caused “serious injury” to their customers.
He told the court and Coroner Andrew Walker: “The concern over serious injury was mainly around the smoking inhalation, the smoke given off from the fridge freezers, at the time we did not consider that the smoking inhalation would be a problem.”
Prosecutor Robert Harland told the court that during the period of 2003 and 2008 there was a significant increase in the number of fires caused by Beko fridge freezers, and some of the incidents occurred at a school and a day nursery.
An email from Beko's technical director, Peter Butt, from April 2008 was read out.
It said: “Please see attached the current fridge fire incident log which shows that we are still receiving fridge fire instances, with a further eight reported so far this year.
“Out of these eight there are three that caused extensive damage to property while the other five were contained to the unit.
“I have attached two pictures from two of the recent instances which clearly show capacitor and timer shorting issues.”
Mr Witter said the firm first had reports of fires starting in 2003 but the company did not feel the fault was serious enough to warrant a recall.
The inquest, which began on Monday (August 4), is determining whether Beko knew about the danger the faulty fridge freezers could cause before the death of Mr Benjamin.
The court heard the London Fire Brigade had contacted the Turkish appliance firm to say it had attended more than 60 fridge freezer fires in the London area in 2008, 15 of which concerned Beko white goods.
Mr Witter, who left Beko in 2010, said: “I was aware of the discussions we were having with the London Fire Brigade.
“The problem with the defrost timer was known by the company back in 2006.
“It is documented and during that year we took appropriate action.”
When cross-examined about the rising number of fridge fires during 2003 and 2008, Mr Witter said: “Clearly we were concerned with the number of incidents we were seeing. The numbers were going up.”
Jill Paterson from law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Mr Benjamin's family, said outside the inquest: “Every family has the right to expect that the appliances they purchase for their homes are safe.
“The family is keen to uncover the facts of exactly what happened leading up to this loving father's death, and we await the findings of the inquest with interest.”