Factory cleaner spiked colleagues’ coffee with Viagra, court told

Karen Beale arrives at Canterbury Crown Court, in Kent  (KMG / SWNS)
Karen Beale arrives at Canterbury Crown Court, in Kent (KMG / SWNS)

A factory cleaner laced office coffee with chemicals including Viagra in a bid to “poison” colleagues, a court has heard.

Karen Beale had been employed at fire protection product manufacturer Envirograf in Dover for seven years when she was secretly filmed allegedly fiddling with a jar of Nescafe instant granules.

Jurors at Canterbury Crown Court heard the camera had been set up in an office after a staff member began to notice several oddities about her cup of coffee. These included a strange taste, blue and white specks, and a slurry, the court heard.

“Not what you would expect to be in Nescafe,” said prosecutor Matthew Hodgetts at the start of Beale’s trial.

In camera footage, lasting 13 minutes in total, the court heard 62-year-old Beale could be seen wearing blue latex gloves as she picked up the jar, occasionally shook it, and took off the lid to decant some of the contents before placing it back onto a shelf.

Jurors were told one clip also showed the night cleaner using her sleeve pulled over her bare hand, in what the prosecution allege was an attempt to avoid leaving fingerprints behind.

With Beale allegedly “caught red-handed”, police were alerted and it was discovered that two coffee jars - one in another employee’s office - contained a number of abnormal ‘ingredients’. These included Sildenafil - an erectile dysfunction treatment sold under the Viagra brand name - as well as a medication for high cholesterol.

But Beale, whose husband and daughter had previously worked for the company, claims she was the victim of “malicious allegations”, having told police she had only been “inspecting” the coffee.

The former resident of The Street in Eythorne, near Dover, denies two offences of attempting to administer a poison or other destructive or noxious thing with intent to injure, aggrieve or annoy between July 30, 2017, and September 16, 2018.

The trial is being held at Canterbury Crown Court (PA Archive)
The trial is being held at Canterbury Crown Court (PA Archive)

The court heard the contaminated jars of Nescafe Blend 37 were found in offices belonging to accountant Katrina Gravenor and company secretary Jean Smith.

Although none of the chemicals found were toxic or would “necessarily cause problems”, said the prosecutor, it is alleged mother-of-three Beale intended harm by her actions.

Mr Hodgetts told the jury: “She was intending that there would be some effect on those two women by putting it in their coffee. That’s why the prosecution say she was attempting to poison.

“She denies placing or attempting to place any substance into those coffee jars and is possibly going to suggest that these allegations against her are malicious in nature.

“But the prosecution say quite plainly those substances were put into those two women’s coffee, hoping and intending it would have some effect and, at the very least, some annoyance.”

The jury heard Ms Gravenor installed the secret camera after she became suspicious at the sight and taste of her beverage, and by the time the footage of Beale was arrested in September 2018, it is alleged she had already tampered with the granules.

“The defendant had already put something in and was checking it was still there,” said Mr Hodgetts.

The court heard Ms Gravenor, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, even wrote a letter to her GP in August that year saying something was making her ill and she had “narrowed it down” to her cup of coffee.

But the doctor told police Ms Gravenor’s arthritis was “unlikely” to be linked to the drink.

A jar in Ms Smith’s office was found to contain what appeared as a blue, white and pink granulated substance.

When interviewed by police and told about being filmed, Beale, now of Winsley in Westbury, Shropshire, denied any wrongdoing but admitted she had “handled” the jar.

“The reason she had done that, she said, was to inspect its contents because she had heard a rumour something was going on at work,” explained the prosecutor.

“But she declined to provide any details of what that rumour was.”

Envirograf managing director Derek Ward, 91, told the court he knew nothing about any concerns over coffee or a camera being installed in his accountant’s office until police told him.

His nephew and general manager Paul Ackerman-Mond also denied when questioned by Beale’s barrister Ben Irwin that he knew about the covert camera and had tried to “set up” the cleaner by instructing her to check the coffee.

It was also refuted that the footage had been edited before it was handed to police.

But giving evidence to the jury, Beale, who previously worked as a holistic therapist, vehemently maintained she had not put any substance in the coffee or had wanted to harm her colleagues.

She also reiterated her claim she had been asked to “keep an eye on it” by the general manager and, when challenged as to why she had not told police of his instructions when arrested, Beale told the court she feared reprisals from him on her return to work.

“He just said Katrina Gravenor was concerned about her coffee and believed one of the night staff was tampering with it and for me to just take a look and keep an eye on it,” Beale told the jury.

“I had a job to go back to and I just thought it would be horrible and I didn’t want to get him into trouble or make it worse for myself.

“I just thought it was best I said I had heard a rumour.”

She denied having any grievances with Ms Gravenor and Ms Smith, or wanting their jobs to go to her husband and daughter.

Of the camera footage, she said wearing gloves was “normal” in her job and that she had resorted on one occasion to using her sleeve as her hand was wet and she did not want to drop the jar. “I was improvising. It was just a hygienic thing. It was not a criminal act,” Beale added.

She also told the jury that the date on one clip was wrong, adding: “If that’s been edited, it leaves it open to what else has been edited.”

The court heard Beale, who described herself as feeling “stunned” when she was arrested, has no previous convictions or cautions.

No substances which could have been used to contaminate the coffee were found when police searched her home.

When asked during cross-examination by Mr Hodgetts whether the alleged contamination was “an amusing power trip” for her, Beale replied: “I have never put anything in anybody’s coffee.”

The court also heard that following her arrest she was sacked by Envirograf for gross misconduct. She appealed that decision however because she “didn’t do anything wrong”, she added.

The trial continues.

Reporting by SWNS.