Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Graham Young, the St. Albans Poisoner

How Could They Let This Happen?

The jury at St. Albans crown court added a rider after Young was sentenced, calling for an urgent official review of the UK laws covering the sale of poisons. It was the least they could do considering the circumstances of the case, and the British newspapers wasted no time in expressing their outrage, alongside reports of the case's more salacious details. How, they asked, could a convicted poisoner be freed from a high security prison despite evidence of his continuing obsession with poison and murder, and also still easily obtain poisons, and be recommended for work within easy access of dangerous chemicals, without his employers even being informed of his criminal record and the nature of his convictions?

Within an hour of the verdict, the home secretary, Reginald Maudling, announced that two separate inquiries had been set up into the control, treatment and supervision of mentally ill prisoners. The inquiries led to tightening of the laws on monitoring mentally ill offenders after release.

It's easy to be wise in hindsight. The fact of the matter is that Graham Young was a one-off, an exceptionally rare criminal whose crimes were pretty much unprecedented, if not in terms of method, then certainly in motive, since almost uniquely among poisoners, Young appeared to be driven simply by misguided scientific obsession, married to a total absence of empathy with the rest of humanity.

"I don't think he had any ill will towards the people he killed," says Peter Goodman, "he just had no morals. The reason he poisoned those closest to him was simply because he could closely observe the symptoms. He was a deranged scientist essentially."

Winifred Young wrote that people who said "Imagine if he'd walked into a crowded café!" missed the point about her brother's motivation.

"My answer was 'that would be no good to Graham"...cause in such circumstances Graham would never be able to observe the effect of the poison. The person or persons poisoned would simply get up from the table and walk out, and Graham would never see them again - and that would be no good to him...he wanted to study the effects; to watch how poison worked, as though he were merely carrying out a clinical experiment."

Still, at least some people were served food and drink by Young and survived without any ill effects. Goodman remembers one occasion when he went to see his charge in prison. "He offered me a piece of cake. I hesitated, and he said "Come on, I wouldn't poison my lawyer." That's pretty much what he said to some of his victims, but I ate it anyway..."

A brave man. 

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