Alexander Hilton, a former student at the University, has been sentenced to three years in prison for attempting to poison fellow student Robert Forbes.
Mr Hilton, now 24, mixed a bottle of red wine with methanol, a substance used in paint and anti-freeze, and encouraged fellow US national Mr Forbes to drink it before New Hall Ball on 5 March 2011.
Mr Forbes was left temporarily blind and in hospital after he consumed the wine as well as suffering from extreme lethargy and headaches.
Mr Forbes had to undergo kidney dialysis and continues to struggle with his sight today.
Sentencing him at the High Court in Edinburgh, judge Lord Burns told Mr Hilton: “This was a wicked and deceitful act and it could have had fatal consequences.” He added that Mr Forbes, “has been left with the agonising prospect of going blind in the future.” Lord Burns also commented that Forbes had been “psychologically affected in a profound way” and that it was a “testament to his own fortitude that he completed his degree.” Mr Forbes graduated from the University last month.
John Scott QC, defending Mr Hilton, described the case as “exceptional,” saying that he had “not in 30 years come across a case such as this.”
Mr Scott argued that Mr Hilton’s mental health issues were a “significant factor” in the crime and should be taken into account in sentencing him. Mr Scott described how Mr Hilton had a long history of mental health issues prior to committing the crime and had “severe adjustment issues” when moving to St Andrews. A psychiatric report published during the extradition process described Mr Hilton as “deeply disturbed.”
However Lord Burns told Mr Hilton that: “your own actions seem to have exacerbated these conditions, when you stopped taking your medication and consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.”
Mr Scott, arguing against a custodial sentence, cited Mr Hilton’s mental health issues, describing him as “someone who would be particularly vulnerable in custody,” adding that Mr Hilton’s mental health had already deteriorated significantly during the two short periods he had already been in custody. Despite this, Mr Scott also said a Community Payback Order (CPO) would not be “practical” as issues to do with Mr Hilton’s status as a US national mean there is a “serious risk that immigration authorities may just step in and remove him.” Mr Scott proposed that the most suitable option would be for Mr Hilton to return to America with his family to continue his treatment and where, Mr Scott noted, he had been living very similarly to how someone who received a CPO would for the past four years, including undertaking voluntary work.
“It cannot be right that a custodial sentence is imposed simply because Mr Hilton is not Scottish or because there are issues with immigration,” Mr Scott said.
Lord Burns concluded that letting Mr Hilton return to America did not “take sufficient account of the gravity of the crime, and the level of culpability you [Mr Hilton] had in inducing your psychotic state” and that therefore a custodial sentence “must be imposed.”
Mr Hilton appeared before the court, more than four years on from the crime, after being extradited from the US earlier this year. Last month he plead guilty to a charge of assaulting Mr Forbes to his severe injury, permanent impairment and to the danger of his life.