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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Sunday 17th July 2011

Three unrelated items about Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, today and two of the three leave questions unanswered. They come from three different countries; the USA, England and Scotland.

In the USA, murder stories don’t always attract a great deal of attention but the finding of a man’s body in a house in Fruit Cove, Florida has been widely reported. What makes this story more interesting that all the other murders happening every day in America? Well, the victim was 53-year old Daniel Somerson, a man questioned by the FBI, in 2003, after ricin was found in an unaddressed letter at a sorting office in South Carolina.

A number of the reports of the murder are suggesting that Somerson was suspected of three incidents where ricin was found, the other two being a letter addressed to the White House that was identified at a screening facility away from Washington and the presence of ricin in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. In fact, Somerson was interviewed only after the South Carolina incident and not either of the other two. Though the White House letter was signed with the same pseudonym, Somerson was not re-interviewed so you have to assume he had been eliminated from the investigation.

Even so, his death has re-established his notoriety as being involved with ricin and, in a number of reports, you would think he had been suspected of all three incidents. It’s worth pointing out that no harm arose from any of the incidents and it is very unlikely any harm would have occurred even if the two intercepted letters had been opened in such a way as to distribute the powder inside.

Ricinus communis, castor oil plant

Meanwhile in England, Asim Kauser appeared in court in Bolton, Lancashire on four charges of ‘possession of records of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’. He is said to have had a USB drive with files giving information on making an improvised explosive device and a recipe for making ricin. It was expected that he would be committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court in London but, instead, the case was adjourned until August 11.

In my experience, ‘ricin recipes’ found on the Internet are usually flawed and would not result in viable ricin being extracted. We’ll have to wait until August to see if the Crown Prosecution Service has changed its mind about Mr Kauser having terrorist intentions.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Scottish Borders Council has completed the planting of its municipal flower beds with summer colour. Many of these beds, like the one in Market Square, Duns shown in the picture, have a Ricinus communis plant as the centrepiece.

I’ve said before that I simply don’t understand why the security services of the USA continue to believe that castor beans pose a dreadful threat while local authority gardeners in the UK understand that it is perfectly safe to grow the plants in flower beds on the public highway.