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THE POISONER; EXCLUSIVE: Thallium victim remembers.


WHEN Diana Smart fell sick in 1971 she thought it was a nasty stomach bug.

Dozens of colleagues at the photographic laboratory in Bovingdon, Herts, where she worked had been laid low by the mystery illness in recent weeks.

Diana, like everybody else, did not yet grasp the appalling truth - that the "Bovingdon Bug" was no virus or infection.

Instead, it was the work of Britain's most notorious poisoner, Graham Young, who was arrested 25 years ago this week.

Young, a 24-year-old storeman, had been poisoning his workmates with precise measures of thallium.

The loner slipped the toxin, in the news this week when it was wrongly blamed for Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko's death, into their cups of tea. Litvinenko is now thought to have been poisoned by radioactive polonium-210.

By the time he was caught, Young had killed two men and made dozens more ill.

Speaking from her home in Bovingdon, Diana, now 73, said: "This Russian chap has brought it all back and I really felt for him.

"All my hair fell out and I was in agony. I lost several teeth and had cancer of the tongue and it was all down to Young.

"At times, I wish I had died because of all the pain I have had since. Sometimes I even considered suicide.

"I was a fit 42-year-old mother of two when he poisoned me and I've never been the same since. I have to live with it every day.

"At the time they didn't know what the longterm effects would be. But look at me - I have chest and stomach pains every day."

Astonishingly, the staff at the John Hadland's lab were not Young's first victims. He had spent the previous nine years in Broadmoor mental hospital after admitting poisoning his father, sister and a friend.

Aged just 15, he had poisoned the milk, food and water at the family home in Neasden, North London. And he almost certainly killed his stepmother Molly but, because she had been cremated, there was no evidence to convict him.

Young often fell sick himself because he forgot what he had spiked. He was caught when a psychiatrist grew suspicious.

In 1962, the Old Bailey heard that he had told police: "I have been very interested in poisons, their properties and effects since I was 11 years old."

He began by poisoning school friends' packed lunches. Young added: "After this I started experimenting at home putting poison on prepared foods, which my stepmother, father and sister ate."

Young was sent to Broadmoor for 15 years but released after nine when doctors decided he was "fully recovered".

In fact, Young had spent his time studying poisons more closely.

In February 1971, he passed a storeroom course at a government training centre near Slough, Berks.

Between 20 and 30 other men at the centre fell ill with stomach pains during this period.

With references from Broadmoor which failed to mention his convictions, Young landed a job at the John Hadland's lab.

Within weeks the Bovingdon Bug began taking its toll on staff, creating a climate of fear.

Diana recalled: "I told my boss I didn't like Young and I didn't want to work there. I suspected him. There was something about him that made my skin crawl.

"He was so pale, he looked like he'd never been out. But then again he hadn't because he was indoors making poison.

"But they were desperate for skilled staff and my boss gave me pounds 1 a week more so I stayed."

It was a decision which nearly cost Diana her life. She added: "First my hair fell out and then it affected my brain. I couldn't concentrate and was very confused.

"When I was cooking I would mix up gravy granules with coffee. Once I collapsed in the toilet and my little boy threw water over me and shouted: 'Mum's dead!'"

Diana has suffered constant ill health since. "My immune system and internal linings are damaged. I live in pain after all these years. I hate Young, he ruined my life."

Diana - who retired from the plant in 1993 - escaped lightly compared to Bob Egle, 60, and Fred Biggs, 58, who worked in the storeroom with Young. For them, there was just sudden sickness and death after accepting cups of tea Young had spiked.

Both suffered a tingling in their fingertips which turned to numbness and spread over their bodies, paralysing them.

Their hair fell out and the pain became so bad that Biggs tried to kill himself by jumping from his hospital window. The factory called in police and within days Young was caught after a colleague Peter Buck remembered his job application.

Mr Buck told the Daily Mirror: "Young was aloof and during his tea breaks used to read a book called Man's Preoccupation With Death.

"I had spotted on Young's application form that he had said one of his hobbies was toxicity. That rang alarm bells and the next day the police were everywhere."

In fact, arrogant Young had suggested thallium poisoning as a cause of the bug to the company doctor.

When police searched him at the factory, they found thallium and two other poisons.

His flat yielded an even more chilling discovery - a diary in which Young recorded every dose he had administered to colleagues.

It includes musings on whether his victims should live or die. One entry, referring to Diana, said: "She irritated me immensely, so I packed her off."

Young stood trial at St Albans Crown Court and was convicted of murdering Bob Egle and Fred Biggs and two attempted murders. He was sentenced to life and died in Parkhurst Prison in 1990.

Then Home Secretary Reginald Maudling ordered a review of patient releases from Broadmoor and other secure hospitals to prevent a similar tragedy.

But for many at John Hadland's it was too late. Mr Buck added: "It angered me when I found out that Young had been in Broadmoor and released.

"We were let down by the authorities. I understand what that Russian spy went through. It has brought it all flooding back and it reminds me of my old friends."


CONVICTED: The Mirror of June 30, 1972' VICTIM Diana Smart survived but is in poor health' CHILLING: Graham Young's cold stare Picture: IAN VOGLER' VICTIM KILLED: Fred Biggs' VICTIM MURDERED: Bob Egle
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 25, 2006

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