Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 13:19 UK

Suspended term for tea poison man

William Dowling
William Dowling claimed he wanted to win his wife back

A man who poisoned his estranged wife's tea with mercury has been given a 350-day suspended sentence.

William Dowling, 69, from Colne, Lancashire, poisoned 64-year-old Maureen Dowling's drink so she would become ill and dependent on him.

At Preston Crown Court, Dowling admitted administering a poison with intent to injure, aggrieve or annoy.

Judge Robert Brown, sentencing, said it was only "good luck" that Mrs Dowling did not suffer serious harm.

She suffered symptoms including forgetfulness, indigestion and headaches, but experts said the mercury had no serious adverse effect on her health.

But police later said she had been left feeling "very fragile, both physically and mentally" by her ordeal.

'Controlling attitude'

Judge Brown told Dowling that his wife left him because "she had become fed-up of what she regarded as your controlling attitude towards her".

He said Dowling's explanation - the fact he wanted her to return to his care - was "irrelevant".

"What is relevant is that you are not a medical expert and it follows from that that it was more by good luck than anything else that your wife did not suffer serious harm," said the judge.

Maureen Dowling
Maureen Dowling is said to be still suffering the effects

As well as the jail term, which was suspended for two years, the judge also imposed an 18-month supervision order.

Mrs Dowling had moved out of the family home after their 28-year relationship broke down four years ago, but continued to visit for meals and refreshments, the court heard.

Mr Dowling claimed he began administering mercury in her tea as a way of getting her to return to live with him.

The judge added: "That was not only a wicked way of treating your wife it was also potentially fatal. Fortunately your plan was discovered before any serious harm had been caused."

The court heard despite her ill health, the level of mercury found in Mrs Dowling's body was no higher than the average person.

Det Insp Dave Groombridge described the case as 'serious and nasty'

Judge Brown suspended Dowling's sentence after acknowledging his early guilty plea, his previous good character and the fact he was "well respected" and had shown "genuine remorse".

Prosecutor Mark Lamberty said the poisoning came to light during a visit by Mrs Dowling to her former home on 13 February 2008.

She noticed what appeared to be "ball bearings" at the bottom of her white china tea cup, which she told her daughter, Julie, she had seen before.

As her daughter examined the cup the defendant "seized the cup from her, threw the contents into the bin and appeared agitated", said Mr Lamberty.

Dowling, who blamed the substance on the kettle or the teabags, was arrested on 1 April and attempted to hide the cup from officers as they searched his home.

Paul Lewis, for the defendant, said in mitigation that Dowling had "only intended to annoy his wife so she would feel the need for him to care for her and so resurrect their relationship".

Mr Lewis suggested that because Mrs Dowling was still able to work as a cleaner, she had overplayed her symptoms.

But speaking after the hearing, Det Sgt Charles Haynes, who led the investigation, said Mrs Dowling had been left "very poorly" and was still receiving medical attention.

His senior officer, Det Insp David Broombridge, said there was concern about how she was going to cope in the future.

"This has been a very unusual case, poisoning fortunately is very rare, but what this case has shown is that very little is beyond the scope of a determined mind," he added.


The couple refused to speak as they left court

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