A chef has avoided being jailed after serving up a shepherds pie which killed a 92-year-old diner and poisoned more than 30 others.
John Croucher dished up the contaminated meal to a harvest-supper party at the Crewe Arms in the Northamptonshire village of Hinton-in-the-Hedges.
Church-goer Elizabeth Neuman could not stop vomiting after eating the pie and died of gastrointestinal haemorrhage, while 31 of her fellow worshippers became "unpleasantly ill". Only three of the congregation escaped food poisoning - because they were vegetarians.
But representing himself in court, Croucher – who has been a cook more than 20 years – claimed that the tragedy had made him “a better chef".
He said: “Remorse is an understatement. This is something I will never forget. Because of it, I am a better chef and it is just a shame the cost of it had to be what it was.”
The 40-year-old was given a four-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months, at Reading Crown Court on Thursday after previously admitting a charge of contravening food regulations.
Pub landlord Neil Billingham, of Northampton, was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs after admitting three charges of contravening food regulations.
The court heard that Ms Neuman was rushed to hospital soon after eating at the Crewe Arms on 8 October 2018 – but but that she died before doctors could properly treat her.
Sentencing, Judge Sarah Campbell said: “No sentence I pass can reflect the loss caused to the family.
“Croucher was the chef that night. The mince was not cooked properly and was placed into a pan with iced water. Croucher needed to leave, so put the mince in cling film and put it in the fridge overnight. Having left it, he cooked it again and added warm mashed potato. He did not take the temperature when it was served.”
The incident came after hygiene inspectors had already ordered the pub to improve after finding no food safety management systems in place.
The court was told that members of the Holy Trinity church congregation which had suffered did not want “retribution” against the pub, Billingham or Croucher, who no longer works there and now lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire.
Christopher Hopkins, for Billingham and his company, the Bobcat Pub Co, said: “You will see that Billingham went to local residents who were affected shortly after, apologising for the incident. He also asks me to express his condolences to the Neuman family on his behalf.”