St Andrews student jailed over wine spiking incident

AN American student who poisoned a fellow classmate by lacing a bottle of red wine with solvent has been jailed for three years for the “wicked and deceitful” crime.

Market Street in St Andrews, where the pair were students. Picture: Neil Doig

Alexander Hilton, now 24, encouraged fellow US national Robert Forbes to drink the wine containing methanol on the evening of a ball for students of St Andrews University in Fife.

Mr Forbes required kidney dialysis after the incident in March 2011 and was left temporarily blind.

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Hilton admitted a charge of assaulting him to his severe injury, permanent impairment and to the danger of his life.

Victim Robert Forbes, who was left temporarily blind after the incident. Picture: PA

At the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday, judge Lord Burns sentenced him to three years in jail.

He told Hilton: “This was a wicked and deceitful act and it could have had fatal consequences”.

The judge said Mr Forbes “has been left with the agonising prospect of going blind in the future”.

The court heard Hilton, from Princeton, Massachusetts, had been diagnosed with a mental illness before spiking Mr Forbes’s drink, and one doctor concluded this condition was “the substantial cause” of his actions.

At the time of the crime, he had stopped taking some of his prescribed medication and was using alcohol and illegal drugs, which when combined brought on a psychotic illness, medics said. Lord Burns said the seriousness of the offence and the fact that Hilton’s own actions had contributed to his poor mental state meant he could not avoid jail.

Hilton, now the subject of a deportation order, was accompanied in court by his parents.

Mr Forbes also attended the hearing but gave no comment on the sentence.

Hilton appeared before the High Court last month, more than four years on from the crime, after being extradited from the US in May this year.

He was in his second year studying economics and computing at St Andrews when he targeted Mr Forbes, who was in the year below studying economics, history and philosophy.

A ball was organised for students living in the New Hall halls of residence on Saturday 5 March, 2011, and Mr Forbes began the evening having drinks with his friends in his room.

Hilton arrived with two bottles of wine and handed one to him, telling him it was a gift.

Mr Forbes took two large gulps and found it had a bitter taste, commenting to friends how “foul tasting” it was. He started feeling sick and fell asleep on the bus to the function.

He woke on the Sunday evening with a severe headache, joint pain and blurred vision, and two days later could barely see.

He was admitted to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where tests showed that he was suffering from the effects of methanol poisoning.

Mr Forbes, 24, suffered no permanent damage to his kidneys and was able to complete his degree, which Lord Burns said was “testament to his fortitude”.