Teen schoolboy died after pupil threw cheese slice at him, inquest told

Karanbir Cheema, 13, was severely allergic to dairy products, wheat, gluten, egg and nuts

Peter Stubley
Thursday 02 May 2019 07:40
Teen schoolboy died after pupil threw cheese slice at him, inquest told

A 13 year-old boy with a severe dairy allergy died after another pupil flicked a piece of cheese at him at school, an inquest heard.

Karanbir Singh Cheema, known as Karan, suffered a serious reaction when the slice – described as half the size of a post-it note – hit him in the neck area.

The teenager was taken to the medical room at William Perkin Church of England High School in Greenford, west London, and given the drug piriton, an epipen and his inhaler but stopped breathing shortly after paramedics arrived.

Karan, described as “so bright he could have been anything he wanted”, was taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital but died ten days later on 9 July 2017 with his family by his side.

The boy who threw the cheese, who is now 15 and cannot be named, apologised to Karan’s parents at Poplar Coroners’ Court and said: “I didn’t mean any harm – I’m sorry , I’m sorry for what I did.”

Giving evidence from behind a screen, he claimed he was unaware of Karan’s dairy allergy – although he knew the teenager was allergic to bread because of a previous incident.

“Someone was eating a sandwich next to him and he asked them to move,” he said. “I knew that he was allergic to bread but that’s all I knew.”

Asked by the coroner Mary Hassell if he knew what reaction someone could get from an allergy he said: “I thought maybe he would get a fever or a rash and miss school for a while ... I didn’t know it could lead to death.”

The inquest heard Karan was severely allergic to wheat, gluten, all dairy products, eggs and nuts. He was also asthmatic and suffered from atopic eczema.

Describing the incident at the school just before midday on 28 June 2017, the boy told the court: “I went to get lunch at the first break, I was with my friend and I was pretty hungry – I asked him for a piece of food.

“I saw he had a small, little piece of cheese – as a joke he handed it to me because I knew it wouldn’t fill me up.”

He then said he “flicked” the cheese at Karan from about a foot away. “With that small amount I went and I threw it a Karan - I didn’t know he was allergic,” he said.

“He was pretty close to me, he was the first person I saw ... he was facing away from me. I flicked it at him with the finger of my other hand.

“I think it landed on the left side of his neck. After that Karan just told me ‘I’m allergic to cheese’ – I apologised then after that.”

Asked why he flicked the cheese, he said: “I don’t know... we would play games with whatever we had, that being food”.

The inquest heard the boy would throw food at other pupils “daily” and had thrown a banana skin at someone earlier that day.

Karanbir Cheema with his mother Rina, who said in a statement that the school had a full report on his allergies

After the incident the boy was called to see the principal, who asked him: ”What have you done? You know what you have done to Karan?”

The boy told the inquest: “I was confused – they told me that Karan collapsed in the medical room and it was my fault.”

It was suggested by Andrew Hogarth QC, the lawyer representing Karan’s family, that there were differences between what he had told the inquest and the statement the boy made at the time.

The boy said in the statement he was feeling “hyper” at the time and added: “I thought it would be funny if I used the cheese for something, I threw it at one boy and then at Karan.”

He told the inquest he was “under pressure at the time” and what he said today was the truth.

The boy’s friend, who handed over the piece of cheese before it was thrown, told the inquest that he knew Karan had a dairy allergy but did not realise that included cheese.

He said that Karan had told him about the allergy when they first met two years earlier.

“I knew he was allergic to some things, dairy and pollen,” he said. “At the time I didn’t know dairy was cheese – milk and yoghurt, I would say that was dairy.

“I knew he probably had more (allergies), but I was only informed of the other ones.”

Asked what he thought would happen as a result of the allergy, he said: “I thought he would get a rash or have a fever or something similar to that – I didn’t know it was that serious.”

He told the inquest that an the day of the incident he got a ham and cheese baguette during break time at around 11am and began eating it outside the cafeteria.

“I had nearly finished my baguette, (the other boy) asked if he could have a piece of cheese – I had a small piece of cheese left.

“I gave him all the remaining cheese and then I went to my other friends, I didn’t see him after that during the break.”

He denied claims that he told the other boy that Karan was allergic to cheese.

Andrew Hogarth QC, representing Karan’s family, told him that this exchange was overheard by another pupil who gave a statement to police.

Mr Hogarth said: “He said he heard you telling him that Karan was allergic to cheese – did you tell him that?”

The boy replied: “No”.

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Karan’s mother Rina Cheema, in a statement that was read out to the court, said her son was “diligent” about his allergies and skin condition and was in good health the morning he died.

She was called by the school that day and asked if they could give her son piriton because he had eaten something he was allergic to but was shortly afterwards told to come straight to the school.

When she was arrived at the hospital she was told by a consultant that he was unlikely that skin contact with a food could cause someone to go into anaphylactic shock.

Mrs Cheema said: “The consultant didn’t think this was responsible- contact with the skin would not have caused this bad a reaction.

“In her 30 years in medicine she was confident that a child wouldn’t have an anaphylactic reaction with something going down his neck.”

The inquest, which is expected to last three days, continues.


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