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Porter cleared of soup poisoning

A kitchen porter at a top public school has been acquitted of attempting to poison the pupils' soup.

Maxwell Cook was accused of pouring a bleach-like cleaning product into the carrot and coriander soup at Stowe School. But after two-and-a-half hours' deliberations, a jury of 11 women and one man found him not guilty of attempting to administer poison with intent to injure, aggrieve or annoy.

Cook, 58, slumped back in his seat with a look of relief as the verdict was read out. A single cry of "yes" was heard from the public gallery.

During the two-and-a-half-day trial at Aylesbury Crown Court in Buckinghamshire, a trainee chef told the jury she had seen Cook in the kitchen lacing the soup with a sanitising destainer.

Louise Samples, 21, said she witnessed the shocking scene at about 3.30pm on March 11 last year after staying behind during the break between shifts to do some studying.

The soup was destined for about 100 pupils and staff at the £27,000-a-year school. But the presence of the cleaning product in it was detected during a routine tasting and no one was injured.

Prosecutor Robert Spencer-Bernard told the court that if the soup had been eaten, it would have had "detrimental effects". The toxic liquid added to it is normally used to unblock drains and can cause irritation, vomiting and swelling of the throat.

Cook, from Syresham in Brackley, Northamptonshire, was dismissed from his job at the prestigious school after the incident.

The school said Cook had been sacked for "gross misconduct" after it had carried out its own internal probe into the incident. And it dismissed the prospect of him being re-hired in the wake of the verdict.

A spokeswoman said: "The school undertook a full investigation immediately after the soup incident and in accordance with our disciplinary procedures, Maxwell Cook was dismissed for gross misconduct. The school has no intention of re-employing him."

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