Women given chemical instead of Sprite

A judge has awarded two women who were mistakenly poisoned at an Auckland RSA $1800 reparation each, after it was revealed the defendants were broke and couldn't pay more.

Nola Murphy ordered a Sprite Zero at the Avondale RSA on February 23 last year but was accidentally given the lethal chemical benzalkonium chloride - a mould remover - instead.

The poison had been put in the bottle by a cleaner, then placed on the bar and later mistakenly put into the drinks fridge.

After it was served to Murphy, she was taken to hospital along with her friend Heatha Anderson who sipped from the bottle after Murphy reacted badly. Both women suffered throat and stomach burns, vomiting and had difficulty breathing and speaking. Murphy spent a significant period in hospital and continues to suffer some health problems.

Both the RSA and the cleaner, Julie Taipeti, were charged with breaching food safety regulations - Taipeti with keeping a poisonous substance in a food container and the RSA with both keeping and selling a substance not fit for human consumption.

At sentencing in the Waitakere District Court today, defence lawyer Paul White told how since the incident, Taipeti had been "racking her brains" as to how the container made its way to the bar.

"She doesn't usually clean the bar... so it is most unlikely that she would have left it there."

Taipeti had written a letter to the victims apologising and both she and the RSA were "horrified" at what had occurred, White said.

The RSA had also changed its procedure nationally to ensure the same mistake would not happen again and wanted to make it up to the victims. It had since offered the victims free meals and membership.

However, as far as financial reparation went, White said both parties were in a "limited cash position".

"Taipeti is behind in the rent and on the minimum wage with two part time jobs... but she is willing to pay what she can to recompense with these woman."

The court heard how the RSA was also in a tenuous financial position. Judge David Mather had received bank statements showing the club's current account was between $30,000 and $50,000 in overdraft.

Mather ordered Taipeti to pay $300 to each of the complainants.

He ordered the RSA to pay $1500 to each of the woman, but said if their financial circumstances were better it would have been double that.

Taipeti must pay $20 per week. The RSA has to pay its reparation by the end of March.

Auckland Now