£25,000 fine for Leeds bar that served customer glass of caustic soda

David Caminal. Picture by Albert Bertran (El Periodico de Catalunya)
David Caminal. Picture by Albert Bertran (El Periodico de Catalunya)
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The boss of a bar which caused a customer life-threatening injuries by serving him a glass of caustic soda instead of beer has been fined £25,000.

Spaniard David Caminal had to have his oesophagus removed after drinking the substance at The New Conservatory, in Albion Place, Leeds, in July 2014.

The New Conservatory Bar, in Albion Place, Leeds

The New Conservatory Bar, in Albion Place, Leeds

Nicholas Bird, who ran the bar and owns the parent company TNC Cafe Bars and Music Limited, admitted health and safety breaches at Leeds Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

The 31-year-old, of Back York Street, Leeds, was fined £20,000 as an individual. The company was fined £5,000.

District Judge David Kitson told him: “[Mr Caminal] will bear the physical and mental scars of this incident for many years, if not the rest of his life.”

The court heard Mr Caminal, a 48-year-old film director, was in Yorkshire on an assignment and was visiting the bar on his day off.

He was offered a sample of an ale called Sunbeam, but the barman instead handed over a glass of sodium hydroxide – better known as caustic soda – which was dispensed from the bar tap after being used to clean the beer lines.

The usually clear liquid had the same colour as a pale ale after being discoloured by the cleaning process. After drinking it, Mr Caminal felt his throat burning and collapsed.

Prosecutor Sam Green, who said the incident happened after a “monumental c***-up”, said: “Mr Caminal sustained life-threatening and life-changing injuries. In short this incident happened because the defendant, which operated the bar and employed its staff, failed to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure customers, such as Mr Caminal, were not exposed to risks to their health and safety, namely the risks posed by a beer line cleaning process.”

Mr Caminal was rushed to hospital and had to be put into an induced coma following the incident, before being flown home to Spain.

His condition later deteriorated and he had to have his oesophagus removed in surgery so dangerous that the Spanish government had to authorise it. He still has trouble eating solid food.

Peter Smith, mitigating, said the bar had no previous health and safety issues and the incident was not caused by a deliberate act. He said his client had been left “devastated” by the incident and it had a major impact on his parents who were financial backers.

“TNC and Nicholas Bird are not a danger to the public. This was very much an isolated incident,” Mr Smith said.

District Judge David Kitson also handed down £17,859 in costs.

In a statement issued through his lawyers Fieldfisher, Mr Caminal said he was “different” as a result of the incident.

He added: “On the odd occasion I do get out to meet friends socially, I’m always checking out where the toilets are because, at some point, I will have to run to them. On the positive side, I suppose I’m lucky to be alive at all.”

After the case, Coun Mark Dobson, of Leeds City Council, said the case proved health and safety was not just “red tape”, adding: “It’s my sincere hope that this case shows just how important it is that businesses remain vigilant.”