Belfast Telegraph

Guilty: GP who fleeced £10k from Alzheimer's patient to help pay off debts

By Cate McCurry

A former doctor who got into financial difficulty and fleeced an elderly patient with Alzheimer's of £10,000 has besmirched her reputation, a court has heard.

Michelle Mellotte pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud by abuse of position.

At Omagh Crown Court, sitting in Dungannon, the prosecution said that the Co Fermanagh ex-GP went to the wealthy patient's home where she said she needed to borrow money.

A cheque of £10,000 was handed to her with a written agreement that she would repay the money.

However, the 61-year-old, of Bannagh Road, Kesh, failed to give the cash back for over a year.

The former medic accepted that she was occupying a position in which she was expected to safeguard the financial interests of the pensioner but dishonestly abused it to obtain the £10,000 from him.

The offence was committed over a period from January 30, 2010, until April 22, 2011, against Michael McGrory, who died in December 2012.

Crown prosecutor Sam Magee told the court that the defendant took the money as a loan from Mr McGrory, who was in his late 70s or early 80s.

"The victim was vulnerable and was in ailing mental and physical health and was suffering from Alzheimer's disease at the time," he added.

"He lived in a remote area in Co Fermanagh, he was not married and he had no children.

"He was a man of means after inheriting a substantial amount of money from his cousin in 1997. However, he lived a humble life."

Dr Mellotte noticed that his health was deteriorating, his memory was fading and that he was forgetting to take his medication, the court heard.

She was said to have been so concerned that she moved him into the village of Ederney, where he could be cared for better.

The victim moved into the property in 2005 and Dr Mellotte helped him with his care needs and medication.

Mr Magee told Judge Stephen Fowler QC that in February 2010 she called to his home and spoke to his home help, Rosemary McElhill.

Dr Mellotte told the home help that she needed to speak to Mr McGrory as she was in a "bit of a diff".

The prosecutor said: "She said that she wanted to borrow money. A cheque was produced for £10,000.

"She wrote an agreement on the back of the cheque that on 'February, 2, 2010, she would pay him back in the summer of 2010'.

"This was witnessed by home help.

"Dr Mellotte was said to have been in significant financial difficulty and the bank had contacted her to say she was in debt."

The money was placed into her bank account and paid to various people.

The court heard that at the end of the summer none of the money had been paid back, nor had there been any attempts to renegotiate the terms.

In Easter of 2011, over a year after she got the cheque, the home help asked her why she had not repaid the money as agreed.

However, Dr Mellotte told her "not to worry about it" and that she would pay it back.

She also told Ms McElhill that she had reprioritised the money, meaning that she had "put it on the long finger". Mr Magee added: "This was an arrangement which from the outset can be described as being dishonest.

"It must have been plainly obvious to her that others would have regard to her conduct as being dishonest."

The prosecutor described the arrangement as "improper" between a general practitioner and a vulnerable patient and it was also a "breach of trust". It was not until November 2011 that she finally made a repayment of £5,400, and the rest was repaid later.

By this stage she had been suspended from her practice because the General Medical Council (GMC) and the PSNI had launched an investigation into the loan.

During a police interview she said that she repaid the money because it would look stupid if she had not paid it back when she appeared before the GMC.

Defence barrister Gary McHugh said that no loss was caused to Mr McGrory or his estate.

"It's quite clear he maintained a close relationship with Dr Mellotte, she went out of her way to help him and went above and beyond the duty of a GP," he added.

"She was the person who told social services about his position, about his needs to get other benefits. If he was alive today we would not be here - he would not have made a compliant."

The court was told that Dr Mellotte suffered from depression before and after the incident and was on antidepressants.

"It seems she has allowed her finances to get on top of her," Mr McHugh said.

The lawyer added that ahead of the GMC hearing into her professional misconduct, she had "voluntarily erased" herself from the medical register and had not practised for five years.

"She has given four decades of her life to serve her patients," he said. "Her reputation as a GP has been besmirched. That's a very heavy burden."

He added that she was not "lining her coffers" and was not enjoying a holiday to the Bahamas or "shopping for expensive handbags and shoes". He said she used the money to pay people back.

Rector Stephanie Woods, from the Church of Ireland in Lisbellaw, told Judge Fowler that she had known Dr Mellotte for 14 years after she had cared for her ill father.

She described her as an "exceptional person" who went above and beyond her duty.

Former parish priest in Ederney Fr Brendan Gallagher also took to the witness box and said that the doctor went out of her way to help her patients.

The case was adjourned until April 4 for sentencing.

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