Wednesday, 2 September 2015

KGB Poison found at Alnwick Gardens

When the KGB are not poisoning dissidents with green tea laced with Polonium-210 or Ricin coated pellets fired from umbrellas (OK, I know that was the Bulgarians - but they were helped by the KGB), their tipple of choice is Gelsemium Elegans - according to the guide showing me around the deadly plants growing in the Poison Garden - this is a fenced-off section of Northumberland's Alnwick Garden containing many intoxicating and poisonous plants.

I was at the Alnwick Garden on Saturday when the guide presented this information as if it were a well known, frequent and, more importantly, current practice of the Russian "KGB" when wishing to rid themselves of troublesome "dissidents". Now there was much to take issue with here, but my mind was struggling to make sense of what the guide was actually referring to; e.g. was this poison used by the KGB in Soviet times or did he mean the current Russian security service - the FSB; and against whom was / is the poison used?  Did he mean Soviet dissidents who had emigrated from the Soviet Union or those Soviet dissidents who had not emigrated and were not incarcerated in labour-camps or psychiatric hospitals?  Or was he referring to some other, more recent events?

I am not trying to be flippant here or suggesting that none of it was true, rather, I am offering an excuse as to why I didn't ask the guide to clarify what he meant. Anyway, we moved on to the star attraction in the garden - cannabis - before I had a chance to form a coherent question, so I thought I would just look it up on the internet on my return home.

It turns out that Gelsemium Elegans had recently been in the news (August 2015) at a pre-inquest hearing into the death of  Alexander Perepilichny, an exile living in the UK.  There was a suggestion that this poison had been used to kill the Russian businessman, and "whistleblower" into a massive tax fraud in Russia, who died in 2012 after collapsing when out running.

Nevertheless, it was a very interesting but brief tour of the deadliest plants in Alnwick Garden, I was taken aback by the fact that many of the plants in the garden were not necessarily rare or exotic plants, but some very mundane and common varieties found in the UK.  For example, Rhubarb leaves can induce a particularly horrible death if ingested.

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