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Hotel should sue over false poison claims

22 June 2006

The industry must take a stand against damaging and unfounded claims of food poisoning, says hotel and restaurant consultant Philip Newman-Hall

"Tottenham Hotspur, national newspapers and TV stations face huge penalties following the dramatic end to the Marriott West India Quay action against lasagne libel."

OK, we all know this will never be a headline… but why not? Following the alleged food poisoning suffered by members of Tottenham Hotspur FC on the eve of their last game of the season, the Marriott West India Quay and its lasagne chef were publicly humiliated by the media and the football club.

This was despite the fact that there was no evidence the hotel was to blame at the time, and subsequent tests have entirely exonerated the incriminated lasagne and catering outfit.

What redress do the hotel and the chef have? Their reputations were seriously damaged by unfounded allegations, and for ever more the hotel will be remembered incorrectly and unjustifiably as the place that served "that lasagne".

Why, whenever anyone is ill after a meal out, is it always "the food"? More germs are spread through breathing than any other source, and we all know that viral infections can spread rapidly from carrier to those in the same vicinity.

Every hotelier and restaurateur has had experiences of guests claiming they were poisoned when other guests ate exactly the same food. There must surely come a time when facts have to be established before accusations which are so damaging can be printed and aired.

I believe both the injured parties should seek legal advice and make a test case. It's time the industry stood up for itself.

Will we see as many column inches and hours of television given over to apologies to the Marriot West India Quay and its chef? Of course not. But wouldn't it be a fitting settlement if every newspaper and TV station had to use the same number of column inches or airplay to make similar amends?

Some very small articles saying the hotel was not to blame is not compensation when reputations have been so vociferously and fiercely attacked.

Will Marriott be tainted by lasagne ‘scandal'?

David Coubrough, executive chairman, Bespoke Hotels
"They say that any publicity is good publicity. In this instance, everyone got to hear about the Marriot West India Quay hotel, which no one had really heard of before. The general public got to know that Tottenham were staying at the hotel before a big London derby match and so I don't think it will do the hotel any damage in the long run."

Andrew Stembridge, managing director, Chewton Glen hotel, New Milton, Hampshire
"I think it will all soon be forgotten, especially as it's been proved that the hotel wasn't at fault. That wonderful saying of today's papers being tomorrow's fish-and-chip wrappers is probably the case here."

Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire
"The Marriott brand is hugely strong - as strong as anyone else in the world. Trying to make reparations would just drag up the whole story all over again. Bad news is more widely read than good news, but they should take every opportunity to publicise the fact that they've been cleared."

Simon Hirst, general manager, One Aldwych, London
"There's no doubt that they'll survive. There have been far worse incidences where people have actually been at fault, but even then they do bounce back. Businesses may suffer from a dip, but it will all blow over very quickly and the hotel will use every opportunity to make sure people know the truth."

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