Chapter 6 of my book ‘Is That Cat Dead?’ is called ‘Have You Got Something Undetectable?’ the question that summarises all the questions people have about the use of poisonous plants as murder weapons. There are other ways to phrase what is really the same question and I end the chapter by saying;
Had the question been put as ‘What would you suggest as a good murder weapon?’ my answer would have been ‘None of the plants’.
It is this notion that there are better ways of killing people than using plant poisons that I want to explore, today, in the light of four recent stories.
I’ve already written a number of times about the ‘ricin letters’ case so I’ve little to add to that except the appearance of a number of stories speculating that this was more about personal feud than a serious attempt to cause harm.
On 18th April, the outcome of a trial in London was widely reported. The Independent headlined its account ‘Four jailed for plot to bomb Territorial Army army [sic] base’. The plan was to make a bomb and fix it to a remote-controlled toy car that would be low enough to drive under the gates of the chosen target. The men were said to have been guided by the banned magazine ‘Inspire’ and one of them travelled to Pakistan where he is said to have received training.
The men were arrested based on intelligence gathering and surveillance and the toy car plot never got passed a conversation recorded by the British anti-terrorist authorities.
Just over a week later, the trial of eleven men accused of planning suicide bombings ended with them all being convicted and the ring-leader receiving a minimum 18 year sentence. The court heard that Irfan Naseer was a pharmacy graduate who had been trained in bomb-making in Pakistan and hoped to mount an attack with eight suicide bombers that would make the death toll from the 7th July 2005 bombings seem trivial.
Again, the plot was discovered as a result of covert surveillance and it is interesting to note that the police recorded conversations about the possibility of mixing poison with hand cream and smearing this on door handles. This terror route was, however, abandoned in favour of straightforward bombings.
The fourth story is not about terrorists but about the alleged activities of the Syrian government. Numerous reports appeared on 25th April saying that US President Obama was close to concluding that Syria had used sarin against anti-regime elements but was still not sure if this was done under instruction from the highest level in government or was a rogue field commander.
By the Sundays, the issues involved in trying to confirm the use of sarin were being discussed with the Observer, for example, noting that some of the reports talk of white smoke and an acidic smell but sarin is invisible and odourless.
So, in one case where ricin was present it seems most likely that it wasn’t intended to cause harm and in three instances where people were intent on causing harm something other than ricin was selected.
I am actually a little encouraged that the message is finally getting through because much more of the reporting of the ricin letters case has focussed on ricin’s deficiencies as a means of doing harm and, so far, I haven’t read any reporting of the Syrian situation confusing ricin and sarin.
It is not all good news, of course. Today, I read a column, which I have no intention of linking to, suggesting that there could be a connection between the bombing of the Boston Marathon and the ricin letters. There was no attempt to provide any logical route for young men from Chechnya to be connected to oddball whites in Mississippi but, for the truly deluded conspiracy theorists, logic is wholly unimportant.
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