St Andrews student jailed after spiking fellow scholar’s wine with methanol

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An American student who endangered a fellow US scholar’s life by spiking his wine with a dangerous chemical has been jailed for three years.

Alexander Hilton (24), slipped methanol into Robert Forbes’ drink at St Andrews University in March 2011.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard how the economics student became unwell and lost his eyesight after consuming the poisonous liquid.

He was rushed to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee for treatment.

Doctors were initially baffled about what happened until they realised that their patient’s drink had been spiked.

When medics discovered what was wrong, they forced Mr Forbes to drink whisky.

If they hadn’t given Mr Forbes Scotland’s national drink, there was a risk the methanol could have killed him.

But even although emergency staff saved his life and his eyesight, Mr Forbes, who recently graduated from St Andrews, could still become permanently blind.

On Friday, defence solicitor advocate John Scott QC urged judge Lord Burns not to jail Hilton.

The lawyer said his client suffered from a major mental illness but was now taking medication to control his condition.

He urged the judge to impose a sentence which would allow Hilton to return to the US so he could study at a university in New Mexico.

But Lord Burns told Hilton, of Princeton, Massachusetts, that his actions were so “wicked” that jail was the only disposal available to him.

He added: “Placing methanol and mixing it into a bottle of wine and then proffering it to Mr Forbes for him to consume was a wicked and deceitful act.

“At the age of 24 he is faced with the prospect that he could permanently lose his eyesight and become blind - he will have to live the rest of his life with that prospect.

“When you became aware that Mr Forbes needed help you did not come forward. You remained silent. Indeed you continued to protest your innocence.

“I am unable to accede to Mr Scott’s submission. I must impose a custodial sentence.There is no other disposal which is appropriate.”

The story emerged last month after Hilton pleaded guilty to a charge of severely injuring Mr Forbes and causing his life to be placed in danger.

Sentence had been deferred for the court to obtain reports about Hilton’s character and mental health.

His decision to plead guilty brought to an end a four year battle to bring Hilton to justice.

He returned to the States following his crime and fought attempts to have him extradited back to Scotland.

Hilton came back to Edinburgh only when US secretary of state John Kerry gave permission for the poisoner to leave America in the company of Scottish police officers.

On Friday, Mr Scott said his client had suffered from mental illness from childhood.

His condition had now been stabilised because of medication and round the clock care from mental health professionals.

Mr Scott told the court that at the time Hilton poisoned Mr Forbes, he had stopped taking his medication. He was trying to control his condition through taking drink and drugs.

Mr Scott added: “He was overwhelmed by moving to Scotland. He stopped taking his medication after receiving comments from fellow students.

“The reports state that this crime was committed because of his mental health issues.”

The court heard that Hilton suffered from delusions of persecution.

The court also heard that when Hilton was arrested by US cops ahead of his extradition, he felt suicidal.

He added: “He was arrested at gunpoint as he was leaving a counselling session. It was entirely unnecessary.. melodramatic even.”

Mr Scott also told the court that the authors of the reports commissioned by the court had concluded that Hilton was at “low risk of reoffending.”

The solicitor advocate told the court that a community payback order could be imposed upon Hilton.

Mr Scott added: “It is my submission that if a Scottish person was before this court, having committed the same offence, the matter could be resolved through the imposition of a Community Payback Order.”

The court also heard that Mr Hilton’s family were set to move to New Mexico and that he was hoping to resume his studies there next year.

Mr Scott added: “It is a very serious charge. However, there are exceptional circumstances in this case which would merit the imposition of a non custodial disposal.”

However, Lord Burns disagreed.

Hilton will also be deported from the United Kingdom.

Leaving court, Mr Forbes told reporters: “I haven’t made any comment at any stage of the process and I’m not going to do it now.”