London: An Indian graphics designer with Barclays Bank was jailed for three years yesterday for procuring a deadly poison with the alleged intention of doing away with her excessively controlling mother.
Kuntal Patel, 37, is the first person in Britain to be sentenced under the Biological Weapons Act 1974, enacted before she was born.
She was cleared of trying to murder her mother Meena, a magistrate, who had wrecked her wedding plans. But she was found guilty of buying the poison abrin, extracted from the distinctive red seeds of the rosary pea plant, a subtropical perennial commonly found in Peru.
Kuntal was accused of slipping the poison, bought online at £950 from an American website, into her mother’s diet coke at their home in Stratford, East London.
But she told the court she meant to kill herself with the abrin, allegedly shipped to her hidden in a red wax candle, but “panicked” and threw the package away, BBC reported.
Kuntal apparently got the idea from watching an American TV series called Breaking Bad in which Walter White, a Mexican drug lord, kills an enemy with ricin-laced tea. Abrin is more toxic than ricin.
Kuntal’s problem was typically Indian and far too common. Mother and daughter had lived happily together till Kuntal found a US citizen, Niraj Kakad, through the dating agency Shaadi.com and became engaged to him in November 2012.
Meena beat, bullied and locked her daughter up and succeeded in breaking up the engagement.
While procuring the poison, Kuntal had apparently talked about needing a “tasteless” and deadly toxin to get her mother “out of the way”. But she later said her comments were part of a fantasy world where she imagined herself as Walter White, the BBC report said.
Abrin strikes at the liver, stomach and kidneys, leading to vomiting, seizures and an agonising death within 72 hours. Experts say a dose as small as three-millionths of a gram can kill if it enters the bloodstream. There is no known antidote.
Kuntal was arrested by Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, acting on a tip-off from the US department of homeland security.
The case came up before Justice Rabinder Singh, who recently presided over a high-profile murder trial where an Englishman aged 82 was accused of shooting his 66-year-old partner and her 40-year-old daughter after a domestic quarrel. The man got 25 years.
Justice Singh, the first fully fledged Asian judge in Britain, clearly found extenuating circumstances in Kuntal’s case that would explain the relatively lenient sentence.
With good behaviour Kuntal will be out in 18 months, but with a criminal record her chances of marrying someone are gone.
The judge said he believed that Kuntal had been forced to endure “a prolonged period of severe stress”.
He said: “It is clear that you were a devoted and obedient daughter. It is also clear that your mother was a devoted and caring mother, who worked hard to raise you and your sister, having been separated from your father when you were very young.”
But he noted that in the months “leading up to your offences, she subjected you to a barrage of abuse, often verbal and at times physical, for example, slapping you”.
“She would send you emails and texts of the most vile kind, abusing not only you but also your friends and in particular the man you wished to marry,” the judge added.
“You found yourself in the autumn of 2013 torn between your devotion to your mother and family as a dutiful daughter, and your desire to find happiness for yourself with the man that you wanted to spend a lifetime with. Ultimately, you could see no way out and became increasingly depressed and isolated, contemplating killing your mother and yourself.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests there are many Indian homes in Britain where an elderly parent ensures a devoted daughter does not have a personal life by subjecting her to emotional blackmail.
One daughter was told by her mother: “It’s all right for you to go out and have fun but don’t be surprised if you find my body by the door when you return.”
The daughter didn’t go out.
-The Telegraph, Calcutta