HMA v Alexander Hilton

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Burns sentenced Alexander Hilton to three years imprisonment after he pled guilty to assault by poisoning.

17 July 2015

On sentencing Lord Burns made the following statement in court:

"You pled guilty to an assault which endangered Mr Forbes' life and which has caused permanent impairment of his eyesight. The use of methanol as a poison, disguised by mixing it with wine and then proffering it as a gift to him was a wicked and deceitful act.

It could, as you have accepted, have had fatal consequences. The use of methanol made it difficult for the medical staff to identify the cause of Mr Forbes' deteriorating condition. I am not told of the likely quantities of methanol which you put in the wine but the samples of blood and urine taken on the Tuesday, 3 days after the poisoning, contained well in excess of the minimum lethal concentration.

His eyesight significantly deteriorated over the days following this poisoning and by the Thursday he had gone blind. He did not know if his sight would return. He required immediate dialysis to prevent permanent kidney damage which, by good fortune, has been prevented. It is a tribute to the skill of the medical staff at Ninewellls that an accurate diagnosis was made in time to prevent any further damage.

Even now he suffers from the lasting effects of your actions. He has regular and debilitating headaches, his eyes are sensitive to light and to strain, his ability to see colours is diminished, he has blind spots which are likely to increase. The most disturbing consequence of what you did is that Mr Forbes cannot know whether his eyesight will deteriorate further, when that might occur or to what extent it may be affected. At the age of only 24, he is left with the agonising prospect of going permanently blind sometime in the future. That will hang over him for the rest of his life. It is clear too that he has been psychologically affected in a profound way. It is a testament to his courage and fortitude that he has successfully completed his degree.

You must have planned this carefully. You obtained all the ingredients to assemble the poisoned wine such as the measuring jug, a funnel, the wine and the methanol. You must have deliberately disposed of the jug and funnel soon after the incident.

You targeted Mr Forbes specifically since you took the 2 bottles to Mr Forbes' flat, one of which you had poisoned, gave it to him and made sure he drank it. You continued to ensure that you remained close to him during the course of the evening, despite not being close friends, until 4am.

It is apparent from the terms of the narrative and from what you told the Social Worker that you became aware that Mr Forbes had been taken to hospital on the Tuesday or Wednesday. Even then you did not intervene to inform the medical staff of what you had done but kept silent and failed to assist the medical treatment. You continued to protest your innocence when interviewed by the police on the Friday.

Although I accept you suffered from a mental illness at the time of this offence, your own acts appear to have brought about or at least exacerbated the symptoms of that disorder. Not only had you stopped taking certain medication which had been prescribed to you but you consumed excessive quantities of both alcohol and illicit drugs in the weeks or months prior to this incident. You were aware from at least to 2010 that you had mental health problems which required medication. That behaviour appears to have increased your psychotic state and your delusions of persecution which you reported. You told the police that immediately before going to F's flat you drank a whole bottle of wine.

As Dr Crichton puts it your general misuse of alcohol and illicit drugs, made worse no doubt by you decision to stop taking certain drugs prescribed for you, precipitated a psychotic illness to which you were genetically predisposed. Your mental condition in March 2011 was thus brought about in a material respect by your own actions even though to some extent the underlying illness (of which you were aware) may have caused you to react in this way. These considerations seem to me to detract significantly from the mitigatory effects of your condition.

The assault is aggravated not only by the consequences on Mr Forbes but by your failure to assist him when you knew he required medical help due to your conduct. I must have due regard to the public interest in marking the gravity of the nature of this offence. I also am bound to have regard to your youth, lack of previous convictions and your personal circumstances and mental state both at the time of the offence and now. I also have regard to all the other factors set out by Mr Scott.

I am bound also not to impose a custodial sentence on you unless I consider no other disposal appropriate.

I have full regard to the terms of Dr Crichton's report. I fully accept that from a clinical perspective the best outcome would be to return to the US where your treatment could continue and you could resume your studies.

I am however, unable to accede to Mr Scott's suggestion. It does not take sufficient account of the gravity of the crime which you committed. It minimises your culpability and your role in bringing about the level of psychosis which existed in March 2011.

I conclude that a custodial sentence must be imposed in this case. I am aware that custody will be more difficult for you than for many others and that you will require careful monitoring and maintenance of your current medication. These requirements are by no means unique.

Having regard to all the circumstances, the sentence is one of 3 years imprisonment. In the light of your plea and in spite of the fact that you resisted deportation for over 2 years and only offered to plead when you were extradited to this country from the US, I have applied a discount from 4 years imprisonment.

You will be subject to the automatic deportation provisions of the UK Borders Act 2007 s32 so that a deportation order will be made by the SS. But for the avoidance of doubt I would have recommended deportation had it not been for s32 of the 2007 Act".