NUTRITION experts will often advise that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and for debt ridden Midland Red bus driver John Watkins it certainly was.

Not because he wanted to start his shift with boundless energy, but because he chose it to poison his wife.

In October 1985 52-years-old Watkins, who flashed his cash on motorbikes and cars, appeared before a jury at Worcester Crown Court charged with administering poison with intent to endanger life. His wife Margaret had noticed there was a strange taste to her early morning bowl of All-Bran and she was quite right. Her husband had laced it with weed killer.

Prosecuting counsel Mr Graham Cliff said the couple, who were the same age, married in the summer of 1982 but rows soon blew up after she found Watkins owed thousands of pounds to hire purchase companies over motorbikes and a car. When a bailiff called at their home in the Newton Farm area of Hereford to serve a writ Mrs Watkins became “very annoyed”.  

She told her husband to sell his 500cc motorbike and buy a bicycle to get to work, but he refused. In fact he was indignant at the idea, shrugged it off and went and bought another motorbike. Action which his wife described as “disgraceful”.

Matters deteriorated even further when a  phone call to the family home revealed Watkins had been married before. It was following this Margaret Watkins began noticing a peculiar taste to her breakfast cereal and grew increasingly weak and shaky. Then on a Sunday morning in September 1984, she took a spoonful of All-Bran and spat it out.

When one of her grown-up daughters by a previous marriage called the next day she found weed killer in a cupboard.

Mrs  Watkins tasted the crystals and they matched the cereal taste. The remains of the breakfast were retrieved from a waste bin and taken to police. A forensic scientist told the jury the cereal was found to contain sodium chlorate.

Adrian Kemmenoe added: “It had more than a minute trace in it.” He explained  that sodium chlorate acts as an oxidising agent and stops the blood carrying oxygen around  the body. Urine tests on Mrs Watkins proved she had consumed chlorate.

However, Watkins said he had no idea how the poison got on his wife’s breakfast cereal. He bought it to control his neighbour’s dock leaves and although the atmosphere at home had turned sour he still loved his wife.

But prosecutor Cliff maintained: “The prosecution says Watkins put the weed killer on the cereal. He told police he loved his wife too much to do anything to her, but it’s more than a co-incidence that when there was a dispute, she found the bitter taste on her cereal.” It was alleged the All-Bran was poisoned four times.

 An eight-woman, four-man jury took only 90 minutes to convict Watkins of administering poison with intent to cause injury. He was cleared of poisoning with intent to endanger life on the direction of the judge because a forensic test could not establish how much weed killer was in the breakfast bowl.

Watkins was remanded to appear later at Dudley Crown Court for sentencing, but that was not the end of the story. While on bail he had earlier fled the country after stealing video recorders and a caravan from a friend who worked alongside him at the bus depot in Hereford.

He travelled to Germany and was eventually discovered living in a town hear Hanover, where he was arrested by local police and sent back to the UK for trial. 

At Dudley, Judge Michael Mott sentenced Watkins to a total of three years in prison, telling him: “I am quite satisfied that you intended to cause your wife considerably injury in the sense of feeling extremely ill. There is something very sinister and unpleasant in injuring someone in this way.”

Needless to say, the couple were soon divorced.