Symptoms could have been from spider bite, says expert

December 12, 2013 | By More

jury-boxA defence medical expert has said that symptoms that led to Philip James Nisbet being taken to the hospital a month before his death were more likely to be a spider bite than a sedative overdose.

Mr Nisbet, 47, was taken to hospital twice on April 15, 2009, after becoming ill while driving his truck at work in the morning.

Professor Ian Whyte, a clinical toxicologist and pharmacologist, gave evidence by video-link from Australia, on the ninth day of the trial of Helen Elizabeth Milner, 50, who is charged with attempting to murder, and then murdering Mr Nisbet, her husband.

The Crown alleges she administered the drug Phenergan – an anti-allergy and sedative pill – with his evening meal and then smothered him as he lay sedated in bed overnight on May 3-4, 2009.

It alleges there was an earlier attempt to poison him on April 15.

Professor Whyte examined medical records of the incidents on April 15, but said the symptoms were more likely to be a spider bite – with from a katipo or a white-tail – than a sedative.

The symptoms described by Mr Nisbet were consistent with a sedative, but the signs noted by doctors and ambulance officers disagreed. Objectively, there was no evidence that he was under the influence of any sedative drug.

Mr Nisbet believed he had been bitten by a spider or insect on the leg, while gardening two days before he became ill.

Asked about whether the drug could be added to food, Professor Whyte said the drug Phenergan had a very bitter taste and had a most unpleasant effect in the mouth after a very small amount had been taken.

The court has been told that post mortem tests showed Mr Nisbet’s body had a high level of Phenergan – 0.7mg to a litre of blood.

Professor Whyte agreed with the evidence of the pathologist that the death was related to the drug Promethazine which is contained in the medication Phenergan.

Milner’s defence says his death could reasonably be a suicide, caused by Mr Nisbet taking a drug overdose.

The Crown is nearing the end of the presentation of its case, which has involved evidence from about 70 witnesses.

The trial is before Justice David Gendall and a jury in the High Court at Christchurch.

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