THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 


This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Thursday 7th July 2011

I had thought I would be the only person in the UK writing a blog today without mentioning the closure of the News of the World. But, it occurred to me that there are similarities between what is happening now to NoW and one of the most famous murderers of all time.

Amongst all the accusations and rumours that will keep flying around for many months to come there are cries of ‘How could this have happened?’ And the answer is simply that whenever people say ‘Lessons have been learned’ they are proved to have been wrong.

Throughout history, there have been times when events have become public that are so shocking that it seems remarkable that they could have been going on without being known to many more people than those directly involved.

Sometimes, they are things that people know about but don’t realise are as much of an issue as they turn out to be. Most people were aware that MPs were able to claim many things as expenses but very few were fully aware of how much the system had become simply a way of topping up their salaries because a straightforward increase would have been politically difficult.

At other times, the information is just too unbelievable to be accepted. The Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’ was widely rumoured to be going on but it just seemed so far away from the behaviour of even the least human being that people simply couldn’t accept that it might be true until the appalling evidence was obtained as the camps were liberated.

Then again, there can be things that simply never enter people’s minds. It took a very long time before anyone even began to think that there might be something odd in the number of people dying when in the care of Dr Harold Shipman.

Papaver somniferum, opium poppy

Shipman spent 25 years killing his patients with overdoses of morphine, the narcotic obtained from Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. His first victim died on 12th April 1972 and his last on 11th November 1997. The enquiry that followed his conviction on 31st January 2000 for fifteen murders concluded that between that first and last there were, probably, 282 others who died because Shipman decided they should.

Every death is, of course, a tragedy but the final three are, perhaps, most tragic because they occurred after suspicion had fallen on Shipman and the police had conducted an enquiry. Unlike the News of the World situation, there was never any suggestion that the police enquiry was deliberately perfunctory and that evidence was ignored. It was accepted that the possibility of an ordinary GP being a murderer was just too far from even abnormal behaviour to have been seriously considered.

We will never know why Harold Shipman killed. With someone like Jane Toppan, another medically qualified user of morphine as a murder weapon who killed 31 people in the USA almost a century before Shipman, we know, because she said, that she obtained pleasure from killing and would, sometimes, reach a sexual climax by hugging her victim as death overtook them. But Shipman never admitted his guilt and never expressed any remorse. The best guess is just a guess but it may be that watching his mother die when he was seventeen and being unable to do anything to stop her demise led him to decide to take control of life and death.

Some people think his suicide in 2004 was a sign of remorse even though he had shown none and had refused to co-operate with the enquiry under Dame Janet Smith. That seems not to have been the case because, by dying before his 60th birthday, Shipman secured an enhanced pension for his widow worth, in total, over £100k to her. Even with his own death he wanted to demonstrate his control of events.

Dame Smith’s enquiry produced four reports, the last in July 2004, six months after Shipman’s death. Procedures were changed and, everyone agreed, ‘Lessons had been learned’. Let’s hope so but what can’t be unlearned is our tendency to not believe that serious wrong can be going on without our knowledge.


Full Entries


Tuesday 25th October 2016
Saturday 20th August 2016
Sunday 6th March 2016
Wednesday 3rd February 2016


Saturday 28th November 2015
Friday 27th November 2015
Monday 17th August 2015
Wednesday 15th July 2015
Friday 26th June 2015
Thursday 25th June 2015
Thursday 30th April 2015
Wednesday 29th April 2015
Wednesday 11th March 2015
Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Saturday 28th February 2015
Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

Monday 24th November 2014
Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014
Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014
Saturday 16th August 2014
Tuesday 5th August 2014
Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014
Wednesday 23rd July 2014
Sunday 13th July 2014
Sunday 6th July 2014
Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014
Tuesday 24th June 2014
Sunday 22nd June 2014
Monday 9th June 2014
Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014
Sunday 18th May 2014
Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014
Saturday 5th April 2014
Thursday 3rd April 2014
Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014
Tuesday 25th March 2014
Friday 21st March 2014
Monday 17th March 2014
Sunday 16th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Tuesday 11th March 2014
Thursday 6th March 2014
Wednesday 5th March 2014
Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014
Monday 24th February 2014
Wednesday 19th February 2014
Monday 17th February 2014
Thursday 13th February 2014
Monday 4th February 2014
Monday 3rd February 2014
Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014
Thursday 23rd January 2014
Friday 17th January 2014
Wednesday 15th January 2014
Monday 13th January 2014
Thursday 9th January 2014
Tuesday 7th January 2014
Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013
Friday 20th December 2013
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Friday 14th December 2013
Thursday 12th December 2013
Sunday 8th December 2013
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013
Wednesday 27th November 2013
Tuesday 26th November 2013
Friday 22nd November 2013
Monday 18th November 2013
Friday 15th November 2013
Thursday 14th November 2013
Sunday 10th November 2013
Thursday 7th November 2013
Wednesday 6th November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013
Sunday 27th October 2013
Wednesday 23rd October 2013
Monday 21st October 2013
Friday 18th October 2013
Friday 11th October 2013
Wednesday 9th October 2013
Tuesday 8th October 2013
Monday 7th October 2013
Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013
Saturday 28th September 2013
Friday 27th September 2013
Monday 23rd September 2013
Sunday 15th September 2013
Monday 9th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Sunday 8th September 2013
Tuesday 3rd September 2013
Sunday 1st September 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013
Sunday 25th August 2013
Monday 19th August 2013
Friday 16th August 2013
Tuesday 13th August 2013
Friday 9th August 2013
Friday 2nd August 2013
Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013
Sunday 21st July 2013
Wednesday 17th July 2013
Monday 15th July 2013
Saturday 13th July 2013
Friday 12th July 2013
Thursday 11th July 2013
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Tuesday 9th July 2013
Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013
Tuesday 25th June 2013
Friday 21st June 2013
Thursday 20th June 2013
Wednesday 19th June 2013
Saturday 15th June 2013
Sunday 9th June 2013
Saturday 8th June 2013
Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

December 2012

November 2012

October 2012

September 2012

August 2012

July 2012 blog

June 2012 blog

May 2012 blog

April 2012 blog

March 2012 blog

February 2012 blog

January 2012 blog

December 2011 blog

November 2011 blog

October 2011 blog

September 2011 blog

August 2011 blog

July 2011 blog

June 2011 blog


The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.