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Taxi driver 'died after drinking liquid cocaine'

A taxi driver died after unwittingly drinking pure liquid cocaine from a rum bottle given to him as a gift, a court heard yesterday.

Lascell Malcolm, 63, had been handed the bottle of Bounty Rum by friend Antoinette Corlis after refusing to take payment for a lift home after she returned from a Caribbean holiday.

She in turn had been given the bottle by a friend, Michael Lawrence, who was carrying it back to the UK from St Lucia for acquaintance Martin Newman.

Newman, 50, was the only one who knew there was 246g (8.7oz) of pure cocaine dissolved into the alcohol, and that just a teaspoon of the liquid could be fatal.

He had given two bottles to Mr Lawrence before flying from St Lucia to Gatwick Airport, claiming his own baggage was overweight. It was intended that he would collect the bottles upon arrival in the UK, but Newman was detained by Customs officers.

Mr Lawrence waited for Newman for a short while before leaving to catch a connecting flight to his home in Switzerland, giving one of the bottles to Ms Corlis.

Oliver Glasgow, prosecuting, told Croydon Crown Court, south London: "Corlis, unaware of the dangers posed by the defendant's bottle of rum, decided to give it to Lascell Malcolm as a thank you for his trouble. It was gratefully received.

"Corlis was only to realise the full import of what she had done when she tried to contact Lascell Malcolm over the following days."

Mr Malcolm, a father-of-two from Haringey, London, had drunk a shot of the rum along with a pint of Guinness, hours after Ms Corlis had given him the bottle on May 25 last year.

But at 4am the next day, he called emergency services telling them he could not walk, had a headache and thought he was dying.

He was admitted and discharged from hospital but later collapsed and died in front of his son Richard. He had suffered a heart attack brought on by cocaine poisoning.

The link to the cocaine-laced rum emerged later that day when two friends, visiting Mr Malcolm's house to pay their respects, found the bottle and decided to make a toast.

Both men, Charles Roach and Trevor Tugman, spat out the foul-tasting liquid but were taken to hospital after suffering seizures.

Mr Glasgow told the jury: "It did not take long for people to identify the defendant's bottle of Bounty Rum as the source of the cocaine poisoning that all three victims had sustained.

"Subsequent analysis of the contents of the bottle established that 246 grams of cocaine had been dissolved into the rum, which resulted in a mixture of such toxicity that a teaspoonful could kill anyone who consumed it.

"Had the alcohol and cocaine been separated, the potential wholesale profit that could have resulted from the sale of the cocaine is in the order of £10,000 and the estimated street value of the drugs is around £15,000."

He told the court Newman, born in St Lucia, had a duty of care to anyone who came into contact with the bottles.

Mr Glasgow said of Mr Malcolm's death: "Whilst this could never have been the intention of the defendant, the risk he ran in importing cocaine in such a manner would have been obvious - once the bottle was passed into the hands of someone who knew nothing of its true contents there was the very real danger that anyone could chose to drink it."

It transpired two other passengers on the Virgin Atlantic flight, Samantha Edwards and Anthony Fessal, had also been tricked into smuggling drugs in bottles of alcohol by Newman. Like Mr Lawrence and Ms Corlis, neither knew the true contents of the bottles.

Newman was arrested on June 3 last year and denied involvement in drug smuggling. Instead, he claimed Mr Fessal had asked him to carry alcohol back to the UK for him and that he had refused.

Mr Glasgow said Newman claims "he is the victim of an elaborate conspiracy designed to frame him".

On his regular trips to St Lucia, he had repeatedly claimed to be an immigration official, even saying he was conducting an investigation into the smuggling of liquid cocaine.

He repeated the claim last May when he was stopped by Customs officers on the island. They found 6,000 US dollars (£3,920) in his luggage, which he said was spending money for his holiday.

Suspicions had previously been raised by Customs officer John Pultie, who told the court he had made background checks into Newman's claim to work in immigration.

Newman, of Wadeville Avenue, Romford, Essex, denies manslaughter and importing Class A drugs.

The trial is set to last for two weeks.

Belfast Telegraph