Former St Andrews student admits to poisoning fellow student

Photo: SalFaxo

A former student of the University of St Andrews has admitted to poisoning a fellow student, a court has heard.

Alexander Hilton, now 24, mixed a bottle of red wine with methanol, a substance used in paint and anti-freeze, and encouraged fellow US national Robert Forbes to drink it before a student ball on March 5, 2011.

Mr Forbes was left temporarily blind and in hospital after he consumed the wine as well as suffering from extreme lethargy and headaches.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard that, without treatment, the poison in Mr Forbes’ system would have had “life-threatening consequences.”

Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC told the court: “The accused brought two bottles of red wine with him. He handed one of the bottles of wine to Robert Forbes, stating that it was a gift.

“The accused had mixed the wine in this bottle with methanol. At this time, Robert Forbes noticed that the bottle of wine was full, but that the seal on the screw top was broken as if it had already been opened.

“During the time that the friends were within Robert Forbes’ room, the accused kept encouraging Robert Forbes to consume the bottle of wine that he had handed him.”

Everyone else in the room noted how “keen” Hilton was for Mr Forbes to drink the wine, the court heard.

Mr Forbes took two large gulps of the drink and found it had a bitter taste, the court heard. He later drank more but continued to comment on how “foul tasting” it was. He then started feeling unwell and sick and fell asleep on the bus to the function. The court heard that his recollection of the rest of the night is “very hazy”.

The victim slept for much of the following day, waking on Sunday evening with a severe headache, joint pain and blurred vision. Two days on from that, his sight “deteriorated significantly and he was struggling to see”.

Mr Forbes was admitted to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on 8 March where tests showed he was suffering from the effects of methanol poisoning. The court heard how the victim was given whisky in hospital to help counter the effects of the toxin.

Mr Forbes still has occasional problems with his sight but is expected to graduate from St Andrews this week.

John Scott, defending, told the court the case was “very unusual as well as being serious” and that Hilton is on a “cocktail of drugs” to help him cope with his longstanding mental health problems. Mr Scott also spoke of a “psychiatric background” extending back to before the incident.

He added that, unusually for a High Court case, he would be making the case at the next hearing for Hilton to receive a non-custodial sentence, describing the accused’s circumstances as unusual and unique.

Judge Lord Burns told Hilton his crime was one of the “utmost seriousness” and “will attract a custodial sentence in the absence of exceptional circumstances.”

He appeared before the court, more than four years on from the crime, after being extradited from the US on May 7 this year.

Hilton will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty to a charge of assaulting Mr Forbes to his severe injury, permanent impairment and to the danger of his life.


  1. It still bothers me that ‘psychiatric problems’ are seen as mitigating circumstances or risk factors for stuff like this. Very few mental illnesses will make you homicidal, and people with psychiatric problems are more likely to be the victim of violence than the perpetrators of it.


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