A doctor who stole drugs from a GP surgery in south Armagh has avoided jail after pleading guilty to theft and possession of class A drugs.
Dr Liam Farrell, of Bridge Street in Rostrevor, Co Down, admitted stealing diamorphine, a form of heroin, and cyclimorph from his Crossmaglen surgery in 2007.
The court heard that the 52-year-old stole the drugs for his own private use and that at no time was there a danger to his patients.
Farrell, who is well known for his media columns on medical issues and has written for a number of respected medical journals, was given a six-month sentence suspended for 18 months.
The 52-year-old from Bridge Street, Rostrevor, appeared before Newry Magistrates’ yesterday and pleaded guilty to two counts of the theft of diamorphine and cyclimorph and two counts of possessing the class A drugs.
Dr Farrell, who practices at Crossmaglen Health Centre in south Armagh, stole the drugs from colleague Dr John Gribben on a date unknown between March 31, 2008 and July 2, 2008.
The court heard on August 1 last year doctors at the health centre reported the absence of 12 ampoules of the class A drugs.
Dr Farrell, who has been registered as a GP at the practice since 1988, was at the centre of a probe by Department of Health officials and he admitted removing the drugs from the supplies.
Prosecution told the court prior to the offence in 2006 Dr Farrell’s right to practice was conditional that he didn’t prescribe certain prescription drugs.
A defence solicitor said his client had been suspended for six months by the General Medical Council who had imposed restrictions on his practices to ensure he was fit to practice.
The lawyer said at no stage did he endanger his patients.
“He was self-medicating in private time, which was clearly foolish and ill advised,” the lawyer said.
“The investigation by the General Medical Council has been thorough and penal in dealing with him.”
The lawyer said the accused had resigned from a number of prestigious posts as a result of the offences, adding that his family, patients and colleagues had been very supportive of him.
He urged the court to put into context that the stolen drugs were only worth £20 and to take into account his client had fully co-operated with the investigation and he admitted the offences on the first occasion.
Deputy District Judge Peter Prenter said he accepted the accused was self-medicating and did not pose a serious risk of harm or endangerment to patients. Although he said the accused posed a low risk of reoffending, he had to mark the seriousness of the offence with the imposition of a suspended sentence.
Mr Prenter handed down a three-month sentence suspended for 18 months on the theft charges to run concurrently to a six-month sentence suspended for 18 month on the possession of class A drugs offence.