Spiked drink leaves student partially blind

A YOUNG American student has been partially blinded after his drink was spiked on the night of a ball at Scotland's oldest university.

Fife police have confirmed that they are investigating a case of "culpable and reckless conduct" following the New Hall Ball in St Andrews last month.

First-year-student Robert Forbes, who is from Virginia, was among a group of students who consumed a bottle of wine containing anti-freeze prior to going to the ball at the St Andrews Bay Hotel, south of the town.

Friends said that Forbes, 19, consumed the biggest quantity of the alcohol laced with anti-freeze, which even in small quantities can damage the optic nerve, leading to blindness.

Forbes, who was studying international relations as part of a four-year degree course, has now returned to his home in the US where he is undergoing treatment at a specialist eye hospital in an attempt to restore his sight.

St Andrews University, ranked fourth in British university league tables behind Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick last year, is a popular choice for overseas students willing to pay 13,500 a year for tuition. It has a large contingent of American students because the fees are less than half of those charged by the average US university.

The New Hall Ball is an annual event for the hundreds of students who live at the 6,500-a-year hall of residence.

Friends said police officers were called to the ball after Forbes realised his drink may have been spiked. They interviewed students at the event but as yet no-one has been charged. The investigation is ongoing and the university is assisting police with their enquiries.

Forbes shared a bottle of red wine with several friends at the university halls before the event but is believed to have drunk more of it than the others.

It is understood he began feeling the effects once he arrived at the ball. He was taken to St Andrews Community Hospital the next day by a friend when the severity of his condition became clear and was later taken to a larger city hospital.

He is currently receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the US's leading hospitals.

The incident has shocked the tight-knit student community at St Andrews, where Prince William first met Kate Middleton as students.

One of Forbes' friends, who asked not to be identified, said: "Robert and a few of his friends were worse for wear after having a glass of wine or so, but I didn't think much of it at the time.

"From what I've heard he began having problems with his vision at the ball. Over the next couple of days it emerged that Robert was in hospital and almost completely blind.

"His vision was blurring, he was exceptionally ill and very sick. He was originally almost entirely blind. He could only read an inch in front of his face. No one else had anything like the same effects. I think Robert had more of the wine than they did."The friend said that Forbes was in hospital for several days, after which his parents travelled to Scotland to help him return home. He said: "I ran into him about ten days later when he came to pick up his stuff with his parents. I waved to him from not far away and he didn't recognise me. He literally didn't know who I was. He has improved since. Now he can read things up close with his right eye.

Another student who was at the ball night said: "Everyone is really surprised. St Andrews is such a close-knit community of students so when something like this happens everyone at least knows people who know the guy.

"Everyone is quite well behaved so when something like that happens you just can't believe it. Students can be stupid, it could have been a prank, but everyone knows you don't put anti-freeze in someone's drink."

Anti-freeze is made up of different chemicals, including ethylene glycol and methanol. They have a sweet taste which means they can be hidden in drinks. Just 10 millilitres of methanol can damage the optic nerve causing vision loss, and 30 millilitres can be fatal.

Even if the patient survives, there may be little or no urine output for several weeks before the kidneys recover, and any brain damage or vision loss may be permanent.

Forbes, who graduated from the independent boarding school Mercersburg Academy, in Pennsylvania, last year before moving to Scotland to study, is understood to have spoken to lawyers in the US.

His family said they had been instructed not to comment by their legal advisers. Both the New Hall Ball organising committee, and the St Andrews University student union declined to comment. Police have appealed for witnesses to come forward.

Detective Inspector Graham Fenton said: "Fife Constabulary can confirm that officers are investigating an incident of culpable and reckless conduct reported by St Andrews University.

"Police are pursuing a positive line of enquiry but no person has been charged in connection with the matter at this time.

"Anyone with information which may assist the enquiry is asked to contact the police on 0845 600 5702 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

A St Andrews University spokeswoman said: "The university is assisting police with an investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment further to this stage."