Man held on suspicion of poisoning soup at Stowe public school

Was it the porter, in the kitchen, with the ladle? This is the question puzzling police investigating the poisoning of a batch of carrot and coriander soup that was due to be fed to 760 pupils at a £27,000-a-year public school.

A 58-year-old kitchen porter, who has not been named, was arrested at Stowe School in Buckingham last Friday after it was noticed that "something acrid" was in the soup. Forensic tests are ongoing, but it is believed the soup was laced with kitchen cleaner.

Yesterday police said they were not aware of any grudges the man may have had with the school. Chief Inspector Henry Parsons from the Thames Valley force added: "The police and the school are not aware of any issues at all, any motive of this at this early stage."

Mr Parsons said the incident is not believed to be terrorist related, adding that the man was not interviewed by police as he was unfit to be detained due to health reasons. He was bailed until 29 March.

Yesterday the headteacher of the school, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, said staff became suspicious that the soup may have been tampered with on Thursday. He said: "This was a batch of soup being prepared for the evening meal. Before any meal is taken up from the kitchens to be served, the food is tested, and it was during the routine sampling that one of the duty chefs discovered there was something acrid in the soup." He said the staff member who tested the soup had tasted a very small quantity and "it was immediately spat out because it tasted so foul".

Dr Wallersteiner said the kitchen porter, who had worked for the school since January 2007, had since been suspended under the school's disciplinary procedure pending a full inquiry. He said: "This is clearly a serious – but isolated – allegation of food being tampered with. It was detected early and an investigation undertaken immediately. I would like to reassure parents that neither the pupils nor staff were put at any risk." All staff at Stowe are subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks, the school confirmed.

Dr Wallersteiner said he had informed parents of the incident, adding: "We are pretty shocked and obviously disappointed that we are facing a police investigation into one of our employees. We are doing everything we can to reassure staff, pupils and parents that the standards of the catering department remain as high as ever. No pupils have been withdrawn and we are not expecting any to be withdrawn."

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