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Northern Ireland nurse spared jail after stealing pills to feed painkiller and sedative addictions

By Paul Higgins

A nurse who "destroyed" her career by stealing medication to feed a hidden addiction has avoided jail.

Deputy District Judge Liam McStay told 28-year-old Stacey Bryars her thefts were "very grave" and represented a serious breach of trust.

But he said that because of her guilty plea and remorse, he was imposing 100 hours of community service and a £100 fine.

At an earlier hearing at Craigavon Magistrates' Court, Bryars, from Sheetrim Road, Drumhillery, pleaded guilty to nine counts of theft.

They related to her stealing Zopiclone, a powerful sedative, and co-codamol, a painkiller, on various dates between September 22 and October 21 last year.

Yesterday, a prosecuting lawyer told the court that staff on a ward at Craigavon Area Hospital noticed last September that missing medication was being taken on weekdays only.

On October 14, two covert cameras were installed on the ward, with the subsequent footage showing Bryars unlocking a cabinet, taking medication and putting it in her pocket.

Police were contacted to investigate and when officers arrested the defendant at her home address she admitted becoming addicted to Zopiclone and codeine after being legitimately prescribed the medications.

Defence barrister Aaron Thompson accepted it was a "breach of trust case" and admitted that Bryars, who was a trainee nurse, took the medication to feed her addictions.

He also told how his client developed depression and insomnia, and that after a miscarriage in March last year her codeine prescription was gradually increased.

It was at that point that she became addicted to the powerful drugs.

She started stealing the medication while suffering withdrawal symptoms after her prescription was halted, he added.

Having already faced a disciplinary hearing with the health trust she worked for, Mr Thompson submitted that his client's professional life "had been destroyed" and that she would now not be awarded a nursing qualification.

Pre-sentence reports indicated there was no likelihood of Bryars re-offending because other medications were in place, she was co-operating with the community addiction team and her family knew of her problems, so they could provide support.

While the defendant was warned at a previous hearing that her offences were grave, her barrister asked the court to avoid an immediate custodial sentence.

Describing Bryars' offences as a "wake-up call," Judge McStay accepted the defendant felt ashamed over her actions.

Imposing the fine and community service order, he also warned Bryars that if she did not abide by the directions of the community service team, she would be brought back to court and jailed.

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