SAFEWAY poisoner Dr Paul Agutter was jailed for 12 years yesterday

after a jury found him guilty of an evil and ingenious plot to murder

his wife.

In an attempt to cover his tracks, Agutter placed tonic bottles laced

with the deadly poison atropine on the shelves of a Safeway supermarket,

showing a callous disregard for the lives of the public.

A jury at the High Court in Edinburgh convicted 48-year-old Agutter by

a majority verdict of attempting to murder his wife Alex, 39, at their

home at Kilduff Lodge, Athelstaneford, East Lothian, on August 28 last

year by putting a massive dose of atropine in her gin and tonic.

They also convicted him, again by a majority, of placing bottles

contaminated with the poison on the shelves of the Safeway supermarket

at Hunter's Tryst, New Swanston, Edinburgh, on August 24.

A number of Safeway customers became violently ill after drinking from

the spiked bottles, and shelves had to be cleared in a nationwide safety


The Crown dropped a charge stating that he also tried to murder an

11-year-old girl at Kilduff Lodge on August 28.

Agutter showed little emotion as he was jailed by Lord Morison at the

end of an eight-day trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

The judge told him: ''This was an evil and cunningly devised crime

which was not only designed to bring about the death of your wife, but

also caused great alarm, danger and injury to the public.

''You will go to prison for a period of 12 years.''

Agutter is understood to be considering an appeal.

Lord Morison also paid tribute to the public-spirited and responsible

action of consultant anaesthetist Dr Geoffrey Sharwood Smith, whose wife

and son became seriously ill after drinking from Safeway tonic bottles

hours after Agutter had placed them on the shelves.

Dr Sharwood Smith, who uses atropine in his work, was the first to

identify the poison and its source, and also appeared in the press and

on TV warning the public of the dangers they faced.

Defence counsel Mr Neil Murray, QC, had described the type of person

who placed poisoned tonic bottles on the supermarket shelves as

conniving, cunning, devious and evil.

After three-and-a-half hours deliberation, the jury decided that the

description fitted Agutter, a gifted biochemist who had access to

atropine in his job as a reader at Edinburgh's Napier University.

The verdict leaves a number of puzzling questions to which there are

no obvious answers. The first and most compelling is why did he do it?

According to Agutter himself and his loyal wife Alex, they had drifted

apart over the years and had accepted a completely open marriage. The

fact that Agutter had a new girlfriend, mother-of-two Carole Bonsall,

was not a problem.

Mrs Agutter, who regularly visited her husband in prison while he

awaited trial, told the court that she had met Carole and she seemed ''a

perfectly nice person''. She did not consider the new relationship was

any of her business.

But, just a week before the poisoned bottles appeared on the Safeway

shelves, Agutter told a rather different story to his GP, Dr Ross

Langlands. Dr Langlands went to see an almost incoherent Agutter after a

''suicidal'' phone call to the GP's answering service.

Agutter talked about having to take out two loans to cover debts he

was incurring after a financial deal with his wife.

According to Dr Langlands: ''I think he was generally unhappy about

the way he was being treated by his wife. He felt as if she was treating

him with some contempt.

''He felt a little bit under pressure from the lady in this (new)

relationship that he ought to leave his wife and perhaps consider

marrying her.''

These may have been the pressures that pushed Agutter over the edge.

The remains of the laced gin and tonic which he had poured for his

wife in their home on the evening of Sunday, August 28 provided crucial

evidence against Agutter.

The concentration of atropine in her drink was 292 milligrammes per

litre, compared with 103mg in the bottle of tonic Agutter had bought at

Safeway the previous Wednesday and poured into his wife's gin. The

obvious explanation was that the poison had been added directly to his

wife's drink.

Why did Agutter not simply pour the drink down the sink?

It was a fatal mistake which the prosecution was able to exploit,

thanks to the vigilance of ambulanceman James Rudyj, who was called to

Kilduff Lodge to deal with a case of suspected poisoning.

The ambulanceman established that the remainder of Mrs Agutter's drink

had not been poured away, and told Agutter that he would have to take it

away with him for analysis.

Mr Rudyj recounted how, until that moment, Agutter had appeared calm

and collected.

Although it was a summer night, Mr Rudyj and Dr Judith Richardson, the

locum who called at the house, noticed the oppressive temperature in the

living room, a heat which would have speeded up the effect of the


It was significant, too, that Agutter's call for medical help did not

indicate that his wife needed to be treated with any degree of urgency.

Another vital but puzzling piece of testimony came from a jailer at

Edinburgh Sheriff Court, who insisted that Agutter had confessed all to

him after being beaten up in the cells by fellow prisoners.

Turnkey David Hill recalled: ''He said he was guilty and had no