1926 Poison in the sugar



A unanimous verdict of ” Not proven ‘ was returned in Glasgow’s High Court jury on Thursday 8th July 1926 in the case of James Boyle, a Blantyre man charged with attempted murder by poisoning. Boyle was accordingly discharged.

It was alleged that in his house at 100 Station Road, Blantyre, he put poison, a substance containing phosphorus, into a bowl of sugar, which Joseph McDermott kept for his consumption, hoping that M’Dermott would ingest the substance.

A further allegation was that James had previously had ill-will against McDermott by threatening him. An alternative charge against Boyle was that he administered poison with intent to do M’Dermott grievous bodily harm.

Sugar with a Smell

The young miner, Joseph M’Dermott, was married and he had rented a kitchen in the house at 100 Station Road, his landlord being James Boyle, the accused, who also happened to be his uncle.

On January 31st 1926, Joseph’s wife went to hospital. In the evening her sister made Joseph some tea, and put sugar from a bag into the sugar bowl, which was empty. The bowl usually stood on the kitchen table. Next morning, when he returned from his work (he was on the nightshift), he detected a peculiar smell coming from the bowl when be was making tea for himself. He examined the sugar bag, but there was no smell from it.  However, the smell was coming from the bowl and there was a darkness in the sugar in the bowl, as if something had been poured in.

Joseph went to bed, and when he wakened later in the day he took the sugar basin to his mother’s house, suspicious of it. Next night he went to the house of Nicholas O’Brien, his father-in-law where he mentioned the incident about the sugar. He then brought the bowl out. Mr O’Brien tasted a little of the sugar in the bowl. He immediately turned red in the face and looked as if he was choking. He was also immediately very sick.

Told the Police

That night Joseph McDermott accused his Uncle James Boyle of interfering with his sugar. Boyle called him “a liar,” and struck him. There was a fight.

Joseph afterwards took the sugar to the police and said that a month before this Boyle had abused him and his wife. Joseph had retaliated and struck his Uncle at that time and Boyle declared “I’ll get my own back.”

Joseph told police that he and his wife were at breakfast a few weeks ago when they detected a curious smell coming from the sugar. He thought nothing of the matter then, and suggested mice had been the bowl but neither of them had taken any of the sugar.

Before this incident Joseph and Boyle had had row in what was clearly an argumentative household. Mary M’Dermott (19), the sister of Joseph, corroborated him regard to the filling up of the empty sugar bowl. She said that when her brother brought the bowl to their mother’s house she detected a smell from it.

Sick for a Week.

It was explained Nicholas O’Brien (47) miner, that when he tasted and tested the sugar from the bowl he was sick for a week afterwards, and he had a pain at his head for three weeks. Cross-examined, he admitted that although he was sick he could still take beer.

Describing an analysis which he had made of the sugar in the bowl, Mr Walter Brown, County chemist, Lanarkshire, said he got 42 grains of brownish pasty substance in the bowl. Grains of sugar adhered to the substance. He examined the substance and got the presence of one-third of a grain of phosphorus.

Professor Glaister stated that from information he had received, he considered symptoms shown by O’Brien were characteristic of the effects of an irritant poison. He held that a third of a grain of phosphorus might cause death in an adult and certainly would in an infant.

Charge Denied.

A denial that he had put anything into the sugar bowl was given by James Boyle, in the witness-box. Speaking of the night when M’Dermott accused him of interfering with the sugar, Boyle asserted that when he opened the door M’Dermott said—” It is you I am waiting for. Take off your jacket. I’ll give you it for trying to poison me.” M’Dermott struck him and caught him the throat. He declared he had not threatened M’Dermott at any time. Boyle had trouble with his Nephew about the payment of rent after the incident, and had not spoken to him since by the time of the trial. Cross-examined, he denied ever buying rat poison. A verdict of not proven was returned, James Boyle let off.

On social media:

Elizabeth Dobson Grieve Joseph McDermott was married to my husbands great aunt and Nicholas O’Brien was his great grandfather
John Breen Another fascinating tale from that annuals of our towns history

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