By Francesca Infante
LONDON: A dental nurse took revenge on her boss by poisoning her coffee with the mercury used in fillings, a court has been told.
Ravinder Kaur, 34, was in danger of being dismissed from her job in a dental clinic in Bedfordshire after a string of formal warnings about her behaviour when she allegedly poured a capsule of mercury amalgam into a cup of coffee and served it to her boss Laura Knowles in March last year.
Just three days earlier she had been given a final warning for her ‘generally poor performance’ at work after she left a patient in the dental chair while she went out to have her lunch.
Samantha Cohen, prosecuting, told the jury that the attack had been one of ‘spite and revenge’ after Kaur felt she was given the ‘cold shoulder’ at work.
Blackfriars Crown Court heard yesterday that prior to the incident Mrs Knowles, who was the practice manager at Shams Moopen Dental Practice in Shefford, Bedfordshire, had been off work for two days following the death of her father.
On March 16 last year she had arrived at work and was talking to the receptionist when Kaur, known as Ravi, entered and offered to make her a cup of coffee.
Mrs Knowles, 36, told the court that when she was given the drink she tasted a strange texture and believed that it had been spat into.
She went to the staff room to pour the rest of the drink down the sink, and as she did so discovered a metallic sludge at the bottom of the mug and a silver powdery residue.
Mrs Knowles, who has worked in dentistry for 20 years, said she ‘immediately’ recognised it as mercury. ‘Mercury moves very differently to other liquids,’ she said.
She was taken to hospital where she suffered nausea and severe stomach cramps, which she likened to ‘early labour pains’.
X-rays of her stomach showed ‘speckles of metal’ in her lower intestine consistent with having consumed mercury.
Mrs Knowles told the court that at the dental practice, part of the Shefford Health Centre, the mercury used for fillings is stored in capsules which also contain a metal alloy of tin, silver and copper.
More than half of the amalgam filling is made up of mercury, with the other metals forming a durable combination to lock it in.
Kaur was hired as an assistant dental nurse in November 2011, and had been given training in the safe handling and storage of mercury. She was, the court heard, well aware of the deadly effects of mercury.
The defence claims that Miss Kaur is the victim of a set-up by her colleagues, having recently made a complaint against one of the other dentists to the Care Quality Commission.
Confronted by her boss and owner of the practice, Dr Shams Moopen, on the evening of the incident Kaur claimed she ‘was not capable’ of spiking the drink ‘on purpose’.
Stomach pains: Laura Knowles told the court that when she was given the drink she tasted a strange texture and believed that it had been spat into
She said she put the instant coffee along with sugar and milk substitute Coffee-mate into a mug and left to prepare for the day’s appointments while the kettle boiled, only returning to add the water and deliver it to Mrs Knowles.
Prosecutor Mrs Cohen added that although initially the two women had a good working relationship, this soured over time.
She said: ‘To begin with she [Mrs Knowles] believed Miss Kaur was meticulous and professional but later she formed the view that she was inflexible and not regarded as a team player.’
In January 2012 Kaur was given a verbal warning over her behaviour and a month later, three days before the poisoning, she was given a second written warning after she left a patient in the dental chair when she went out to have her lunch break.
The court also heard that another dentist at the practice, Dr Shah, had requested that Kaur assist someone else as he found her ‘difficult to work with’.
Kaur previously appeared at Luton Crown Court where she denied administering a poisonous or noxious substance with intent to cause harm.
The trial continues.
Patients in Britain have about eight million mercury fillings a year. Alternatives such as white fillings or glass resin composites cost more and are said not to be as strong. (Courtesy the Daily Mail)