Nursery is fined £60,000 over death of allergic baby

Maxine Frith,Social Affairs Correspondent
Friday 31 October 2003 01:00 GMT

A nursery was fined £60,000 yesterday over the death of a baby who was fed dairy products despite having a severe allergy to milk. Thomas Egan suffered severe reactive shock and died of a heart attack within minutes of being given a dairy-based breakfast cereal at a branch of Jigsaw Day Nurseries.

His mother, Wendy, had given written instructions that her five-month-old son should never be given any dairy ingredients because of his potentially fatal allergy to cow's milk.

The Browns Wood branch of Jigsaw Day Nurseries in Milton Keynes, where Thomas was cared for during the day, admitted one charge of failing to protect children under the Health and Safety at Work Act. An inquest in January found that Thomas's death had been accidental but aggravated by neglect.

Mrs Egan, a radiographer, fed breakfast to her son at home because of his allergy, and staff at the nursery were told about his meal arrangements and his medical condition.

Despite this, on 11 April, he was given breakfast cereal containing milk at the nursery. Within minutes, Thomas went into severe reactive shock, suffering breathing problems and a fatal heart attack.

Aylesbury Crown Court was told that the nursery, part of a national chain, made 11 failures in the care and treatment of Thomas. There were no trained first aiders and no emergency procedures.

Judge Christopher Tyrer said: "At the root of this appalling tragedy, one fact seems to me to stand clear, that this death was preventable. That, I expect, is the most anguishing factor for Mr and Mrs Egan."

He added: "What happened was preventable and should have been prevented. That's the gravity of this prosecution in my mind."

The company was ordered to pay a £60,000 fine and £19,000 in legal costs. Thomas's parents said that the sentence was too lenient. Mrs Egan said: "They've taken away my little boy from me and all they've got is a few thousand pounds' fine and a slap on the wrist and they've all got to keep their jobs.

"It's awful. I don't think we will ever be able to get closure. We'll be living with this for the rest of our lives."

Her husband, Gordon, a sales director, accused the nursery company of blaming doctors and even the parents in an effort to avoid suspicion. He said: "Jigsaw Day Nurseries is a company with a turnover of £17m and they've just been given a £60,000 fine. We support the judge's comments, but this is not enough.

"For five days, they pointed the finger of blame at us, at the hospital and at the GP's practice. They didn't just accept the responsibility."

Jigsaw Day Nurseries has subsequently spent £310,000 retraining its 800 staff employed at 36 nurseries across the country.

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