Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rival 'poisons' Adelaide Hills Jehovah's Witnesses church leader

THE Adelaide Hills Jehovah's Witnesses community has been rocked by the alleged poisoning of a church official and his young family by a rival. The extraordinary series of events, in which glyphosate weed killer was injected into food, milk and fruit juice cartons in a fridge, was uncovered only after the victim set up a hidden camera in his kitchen - apparently catching the culprit in the act. The victim took the unusual step after becoming suspicious that someone had been repeatedly entering his Stirling home and tampering with food while his family was at church meetings in nearby Crafers. His family, including three young children aged five to 12, had also complained after coming home from church that food and drinks from the fridge had smelt and tasted toxic. As a result of this covert camera footage, a Stirling man is now facing 12 charges in connection with the alleged poisoning scheme, which played out over a seven-month period until he was arrested in October last year. Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar. End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar. "When it was happening I had no idea who it was, not a clue. At first it seemed unreal," the victim told the Sunday Mail. "I had a bit of a suspicion it was connected to the congregation because it always happened when we were out. "It just seems like a crazy thing to do." The charges include five counts of aggravated creating a risk of serious harm by poisoning, five counts of serious criminal trespass and the alleged theft of the victim's front door key and bank statements. The suspect also faces charges of possession of a handgun, ammunition, two silencers and a Taser after a search of his house by police. The aggravated charges of creating risk of serious harm carry a seven-year prison sentence, while serious criminal trespass charges carry a 15-year sentence. The bizarre incident is believed to be connected to a disciplinary matter within the Mt Lofty Jehovah's Witnesses Church congregation, where both the charged man and the victim and his family are members. It is understood the charged man may have resented the involvement of the victim, a church elder, in a matter which saw him "disfellowshipped" in 2010 over his conduct. The poisoning victim, who asked not to be identified, said the charged man was no longer a member of the 100-strong congregation. "He was removed from the congregation," he said. "No single person makes a judgment like that - it's a committee decision. "There are processes there to address any grievance somebody might have if they feel wrongly done by. "There was no hint that was the case. He knew the score. "For all intents and purposes it seemed like he accepted it. "He was still free to attend our meetings, which he continued to do. We don't prevent anyone from attending the meetings; we just don't have anything to do with them if they have been disciplined by the congregation like that." The victim said he had always had a cordial relationship with the charged man and had "no idea" what possible motive there could have been. The victim has told police he noticed as early as last April that food and drink in his fridge may have been intentionally contaminated. After returning from church on numerous occasions he found that drinks - especially milk and fruit juice - had a toxic smell and taste. Other products including cooking oil and foodstuffs also were allegedly laced with the poison. The victim said his suspicions were aroused purely by "just the taste in (the) milk and fruit juice". "Back then it was only liquids. At first when you tasted funny-tasting milk, you chucked it out - you don't suspect that someone is poisoning you, do you?" he said. "But after it happened two or three times, we started to get suspicious." He said after it had occurred several times, he had taken the milk back to the local supermarket to complain - thinking "maybe there was something wrong with their supply chain". "I did that but after I got back home and found that flavour in something else I had to go back to them and say, `Forget about what I had said, your milk is fine'." The victim said he had reported the activity to police several times before using his own initiative to try to catch the person responsible. On the last occasion he spoke to police he had taken some milk to the Stirling police station and spoke to an officer about the ongoing situation. "At first I said to her, `You are going to have difficulty believing what I am about to tell you, but here we go'," he said. "She was very good. "The report was passed on and some detectives contacted us and sent around a CSI crew. "Their advice was, `Just change the locks and get your family out of danger and forget about it'. "I wasn't willing to do that because I thought, `If someone is willing to poison us, then who knows what they will do; I need to know who it is', so I persisted." In July the victim went looking for a covert security camera and bought one on eBay. The digital alarm clock, complete with a concealed, motion-activated camera, cost him $30. Several attempts to film the culprit failed - either the camera malfunctioned or nothing untoward occurred. "He wasn't consistent, sometimes nothing would happen for a month or so," he said. "We then thought, `Oh, this is all over', and wouldn't worry about it." Then, on October 25 last year, after returning from a church meeting, he checked the camera footage on his home computer - and found images of a person in the family's kitchen. "It wasn't a very good-quality camera - in hindsight, I wished I had gone down and got some high-tech surveillance gear," he said. While the footage, which ran for several minutes, was of poor quality, the victim said he was able to recognise the man captured at his fridge tampering with open drink containers. The next morning he contacted the police, who took possession of the camera and footage after viewing it for forensic testing. The same day detectives went to the charged man's home where he was interviewed and his house searched. It will be alleged the search uncovered a quantity of glyphosate weed killer - No-Grow 450 - syringes, two firearm silencers, a Taser, a small quantity of ammunition, a home-made .410 calibre handgun and a key that fitted the victim's front door. After being remanded in custody for a fortnight, the man was bailed on November 11; one of his conditions is that he not contact any member of the Jehovah's Witnesses church at Crafers or enter Stirling, Aldgate or Crafers "for any reason whatsoever." He will next appear in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on May 4.