August 28, 2009
A pensioner, William Dowling, who poisoned his estranged wife by putting mercury in her tea in a misguided attempt to win her back has escaped jail.
Dowling, 69, of Colne, Lancashire, duped Maureen Dowling into drinking tea laced with mercury on at least five occasions because he planned to win her affection, when she became ill, by nursing her back to health.
He received a 350-day prison sentence, suspended for two years, at Preston Crown Court today. Judge Robert Brown also imposed an 18-month supervision order.
The electrician admitted administering a poison or noxious substance with intent to injure, aggrieve or annoy between January and April.
Mrs Dowling, 64, a cleaner, suffered symptoms including forgetfulness, indigestion and headaches but experts ruled the mercury had no serious adverse effect on her health.
The maximum possible sentence Dowling faced was five years in jail, the court heard. Judge Brown told Dowling that his wife of 28 years left him because “she had become fed-up of what she regarded as your controlling attitude towards her”.
“In judging the seriousness of the crime you committed, your … wanting her to return to your care is irrelevant,” he said. “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.”
Judge Brown told Dowling, who is deaf in one ear and limps as a result of a stroke 10 years ago: “After the separation she continued to visit you on a regular basis and you provided her, from time to time, with meals and refreshments.
“There is no question here of her becoming involved with another person but you were not satisfied with your situation and you decided to engineer her return to live with you, and the way that you went about it was to administer to her a series of doses of mercury mixed in with her cups of tea.
“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.”
Judge Brown said that despite the fact Mrs Dowling suffered from ill health, the levels of mercury found in her body were no higher “than was to be expected in the general population”.
He suspended the sentence after acknowledging that Dowling’s early guilty plea, his previous good character, and the fact that he was “well respected and liked” in his community and had shown “genuine remorse”.
The court had heard Mrs Dowling moved out of the marital home in Linden Road four years ago but continued to visit regularly.
Mark Lamberty, prosecuting, said she visited her estranged husband on Friday February 13 last year.
“The defendant made her a cup of tea and as was customary poured that in a white china beaker with a yellow floral motif. While she was drinking it she noticed what appeared to her to be ball bearings at the bottom of the cup.
“She showed that to her daughter Julie and commented she had noticed that in her cup before and it always appeared to be the situation that the defendant made the tea.
“She said there were four or five occasions she had noticed that in the past. She commented and he riposted ‘they must be coming off the kettle’ and in another comment ‘they must be coming off the teabags’.”
Mr Lamberty said that when Julie, 43, examined the contents of the cup, which appeared to be liquid metal, “the defendant seized the cup from her, threw the contents into the bin and appeared agitated”.
When Mrs Dowling noticed the silvery substance in her tea cup the following week the defendant told her he really must clean the kettle, Mr Lamberty said.
Dowling was arrested on April 1. Mr Lamberty said that when officers searched his home they spotted him sliding the floral china mug, which had mercury in the bottom of it, into a drawer.
He told officers: “I hid it because I know what would happen if you found it.”
Mr Lamberty said Dowling had delivered a “poisoned chalice” to his wife. Quoting from Macbeth, he said: “This even-handed justice commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips.”
He said the effects on Mrs Dowling were “devastating” and had caused her to lose her self confidence and created a family rift.
Paul Lewis, for the defence, said in mitigation that his client was known to be courteous and helpful and happy to give his time to help others.
“The actions he undertook were only intended to annoy his wife so she would feel the need for him to care for her and so resurrect their relationship. He had no intention to cause her any significant harm. His actions were ill thought out.”
Mr Lewis, quoting from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, suggested that because Mrs Dowling was able to work as a cleaner “the lady doth protest too much” about her symptoms of ill health.
Dowling, a father of two who has 14 grandchildren, declined to comment as he left court.
Comment from Leslie
Mercury – a posion if a husband uses it to make his wife ill. Well, what about Big Pharma’s use of mercury in vaccines? As far as the rest of the story is concerned…..I can only shake my head in despair.