A pensioner who gave his estranged wife a poisoned chalice in a misguided attempt to woo her escaped jail today.
William Dowling, 69, of Colne, Lancashire, slipped mercury into Maureen Dowling's tea on at least five occasions because he planned to win her affection, when she became ill, by nursing her back to health.
Dowling 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 69-year-old 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".
He said: "In judging the seriousness of the crime you committed, your ... wanting her to return to your care is 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."
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".