Belfast Telegraph

Prison warning to nurse who stole £7k from patients

By John Cassidy

A former nurse who admitted stealing more than £7,000 from vulnerable patients was yesterday warned she could be jailed.

Cathy Conway (36), of Clara Street, Lurgan, will be sentenced next week after pleading guilty to 25 charges of forgery, one of false accounting and another of fraud by abuse of position.

At Newry Crown Court, judge Stephen Fowler QC bailed her until Monday, but he said: "Do not take that as an indication of what sentence I will pass.''

The defendant worked at Armagh's Longstone Hospital, which had a system whereby it would hold money for patients so they could buy themselves clothes and personal items.

To prevent fraud, money withdrawn on behalf of a patient had to be countersigned by a senior nurse, but the deception came to light in 2009 when staff found pages had been torn out of accounts and signatures forged.

Prosecution lawyer Geraldine McCullough said that when Conway was confronted with the evidence, "she claimed her signature on her forms were false and that another person was responsible''.

Ms McCullough added: "The defendant was in a position of trust of particularly vulnerable patients and patients with mental health difficulties.

"This was a cunning and sophisticated fraud perpetrated over an extensive period from 2007 to 2009. She denied (this) to both her employer and the police when she was confronted."

A defence lawyer said university-educated Conway took the money because she had low self-esteem and struggled to fit in.

He added: "There are no trappings of an ostentatious lifestyle, no flash cars or holidays. It may be is the case she used this money to buy friendships in society.''

The lawyer also told how Conway was herself now a vulnerable person who needed constant supervision from her mother because she has depression and suicidal tendencies.

He added that his client had found a weakness in the control mechanisms at the hospital and had "succumbed to temptation and then covered it up''.

The court was told the defendant was not in a position to make full restitution as she received £136 a week in benefits. Conway instead offered £200 she had saved over recent months.

Judge Fowler QC said he was adjourning sentencing to allow him to consider the matter over the weekend.

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