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Beko: Why were so many people killed by faulty cookers?

By Johanna Carr
BBC News Online

image copyrightFamily Handout
image captionCivil servant Richard Smith was 30 when he died from carbon monoxide poisoning

Serious safety defects in gas cookers linked to the deaths of 18 people were only uncovered after six people died in a little over two months - five years after they first went on sale.

The cookers had passed rigorous testing and met the relevant safety standards.

But the families of two of the victims say the cookers should never have been put on the market.

Brian Smith said his son Richard's life was "tragically cut short by a Beko gas cooker that was not fit for purpose".

An inquest in Cornwall that concluded on Monday had heard how Mr Smith, 30, was one of five people to die there, in incidents in 2010 and 2013.

The coroner concluded all five died accidentally but criticised Beko and its parent company Arcelik, which made the faulty cookers.

What happened to the victims?

image copyrightFamily Handout
image captionKevin Branton, who worked in construction, had been looking at going back to college to study civil engineering before he died

Eighteen people died in 10 incidents between 2008 and 2015 linked to the cookers, which produced levels of carbon monoxide high enough to kill within minutes if the grill was used with the door shut.

Details of how victims were found show just how quickly they were overcome.

One woman was found in a chair, still holding a cup of tea, while her friend - who had popped around to see her - was slumped at her feet.

A couple who had been cooking a steak, were found in their living room, with the television on.

The five who died in Cornwall were found to have uncooked food in their ovens, which were switched off. The cookers' grills had been turned on by mistake.

Civil servant Richard Smith, 30, described as "kind, loving and caring" by his father, died on 11 November 2010 along with his friend and lodger Kevin Branton, 32, at their home in Saltash.

Mr Branton's mother Denise said he was hard-working and loved life.

She said: "He was my future... maybe by now 10 years later he would have been married and have given me my first grandchild.

"I shall never know because his life, along with numerous others was cut short because of a faulty Beko cooker which I believe should never have been put on to the market."

In 2013, three members of the Cook family - Audrey Cook, 86, John Cook, 90, and their daughter Maureen, 47, died at their home in Camborne.

What was the problem with the cookers?

image captionThe cookers sold by Beko in the UK carried various branding including Flavel

The issue related to two different types of mains gas-powered cookers, of which 30,000 were sold under the Beko brand and 30,000 under the Glen Dimplex brand.

A further issue was found with cookers that could be converted to run on bottled gas. Some 2,400 of those were sold.

The fault was with an O-shaped seal - added to stop rattling - that created an airlock when the grill was turned on with the door closed.

This led to incomplete combustion, and resulted in carbon monoxide being released. The problem could be solved by cutting a few inches off the seal.

Who tested the cookers for safety?

image captionGas alarms went off the scale at the Cook home, with meters reading 10,000ppm

Products sold in the UK have to comply with regulations - either for the specific type of product or the General Product Safety Regulations 2005.

The inquest heard the cookers were tested first by manufacturer Arcelik before being tested externally by Intertek, a testing and quality assurance company which provided certification services to Beko.

Intertek found the cookers met the harmonised standard - safety standards used across Europe.

The cookers were not at this stage required to be tested with the grill door closed because the manufacturer's instructions said the grill door should be open when in use.

Coroner Geraint Williams said it was "glaringly obvious" the cookers might be used in this way and that it should have been recognised by Arcelik.

Brian Smith said "every conceivable test" should have been carried out regardless of the standard involved before the cookers were passed as safe and sold to the public.

The court heard the testing regime had now changed as a consequence of these incidents.

What did Beko do once it realised there was a problem?

Beko, which in the past decade has also had to issue safety alerts over fire-risk fridge freezers and tumble dryers, has said its main objective was to "ensure that every Beko product is safe for our customers".

In relation to the cookers, which went on the market from 2003, the inquest heard no-one had been able to explain why there had not been any incidents prior to the first death in 2008.

Andrew Mullen, from Beko, said: "We had in a space of a couple of weeks a situation where we went from one death to six deaths... it was a bewildering time for us as a manufacturer."

Mr Mullen said Beko had not attempted to hide from scrutiny and wanted to find out the truth.

"To find out a product we had supplied had been responsible for one person's death, it is really hard to explain the enormity of the pressure that places on you," he said.

Once the risk became clear, the company sought to find as many of the cookers as possible and carry out safety modifications.

While the average product recall is only 10-20% successful, Beko said it reached 58% of customers in this instance.

However, it is believed up to 1,000 of the cookers could still be in people's homes.

Denise Branton is urging people to check their cookers are not on the affected model list.

What do the families of those who died want to happen next?

image copyrightBBC news grab
image captionThe cooker that led to the deaths of Mr Smith and Mr Branton was bought on 31 December 2008

Beko says since the cooker deaths it has "continued to raise our safety standards and the testing processes our products go through have become even more robust and stringent".

And that is the wish of the families of Mr Smith and Mr Branton - that lessons are learned from their tragedies.

In a statement released after the inquest, Ms Branton said: "I hope that in future producers like Beko will respond immediately and investigate any fatality or near miss that occurs with their products.

"They have a duty of care to the public who buy their products and take them into their homes.

"The safety of our loved ones lies firmly in their hands."

Related Topics

  • Saltash
  • Camborne

More on this story

  • Cornwall cooker deaths: 'Serious failings' by Beko