A senior nurse at Craigavon Area Hospital, who swindled more than £10,000 from the Southern Health Trust and then forged a reference to get a top nursing home job, will be in jail for the next seven months.
Ordering 35-year-old mother-of-two Cherith Douglas to spend a further seven months on licence, Judge Patrick Lynch QC told the disgraced former nurse her reputation and career “are in tatters.”
“At a time when the health service has been rightly praised, it’s a great pity that a person such as yourself, an experienced and trained clinician, should find yourself before me,” said the Craigavon Crown Court judge, “a reputation in tatters, a career in tatters.”
At an earlier hearing Douglas, from Weavers Lodge in Hamiltonsbawn, entered guilty pleas to a total of 12 offences spread across two indictments – eight of fraud by false representation and four of false accounting, all committed on various dates between 11 April 2015 and 5 May 2017.
Opening the facts of the case on Friday, prosecuting counsel Nicola Auret told the court the offences related to when Douglas was a senior band seven nurse at Craigavon Area Hospital and then as nursing manager at a nursing home in Lisburn.
Taking them in chronological order, the lawyer said that junior nurses used the health trusts “whistleblowing service” to raise their suspicions about Douglas’ working practices
Further investigations revealed that in essence, Douglas was claiming for either duplicate shifts and for hours she had not worked, beginning shifts late or leaving early, using her position as a senior nurse to facilitate the frauds.
At the beginning of Douglas’ offending, paper forms were filled in and signed off but in her case, forms were “not signed off in the proper manner,” said Ms Auret.
When the system was computerised, it transpired that Douglas had helped a colleague set up her sign in details but then used those details herself to create fake time sheets while colleague reported that Douglas had asked her for her log in details.
“She felt compelled to do so because Douglas was her superviser,” said Ms Auret adding that of all the shifts she was supposed to work, and for which she had been paid, Douglas had completed “half to two thirds of her shifts” with excuses “ranging from child care problems to having a personal trainer in the morning.”
Human Resources estimate that Douglas swindled just over £11,000 from the trust and while Douglas was initially suspended in May 2017, within days of her suspension the fraudster resigned her position.
Within a short period however, Douglas took up a position as a care home manager on a £41,000 annual salary having supplied a reference which spoke of her in “glowing terms.”
There was also no mention or reference that Douglas was facing an internal trust investigation but her falsely based house of cars came tumbling down in August 2017 when the trust circulated an email to health care providers which identified Douglas as being investigated.
That led to her new employers discovering that the Simon Trouton who wrote Douglas’ glowing reference did not even exist and the fraudster was summarily dismissed from her post.
Ms Auret said while the fraud of the trust amount to £11,774, there was a quasi victim impact statement from the Southern Trust which outlined how Douglas’ behaviour had affected her hard working colleagues and she had left wards short staffed which could’ve undermined patient care.
She submitted there were numerous aggravating features ri the offences including a “gross breach of trust” by a staff member in a senior position of responsibility and that the frauds were perpetrated over a “protracted period of time” and with two victims.
Ms Auret further argued that while Douglas had a clear record at the time, she had been dealt with for fraud and theft since then including one offence where she used a credit card she found to buy items in Tesco and another where she stole crisps and bananas while working as a live in nanny.
Describing Douglas as a “fragile young lady,” defence counsel Conor Lunny said she had managed to gather £1,500 as part restitution which was “reflective of her remorse,” adding that between her wage and benefits, “she can offer to enter a repayment scheme of about £800 per month for what it’s worth.”
Conceding that “there’s clearly a degree of sophistication” to the frauds, Mr Lunny revealed that a psychological report “is silent on the point of kleptomania or thrill seeking – she got away with it at the start and once that happened, that emboldened her.”
“A reasonable person thinking rationally would be sat down and thought about it and would not have taken the risk…because the Trust as a government body, was always going to find these anomalies,” said the lawyer who told the court that “unsurprisingly, she has been struck off the nursing register.”
He further conceded that while a jail sentence was almost inevitable and Douglas was “under no illusions about the likely outcome,” Mr Connor urged the judge to find a degree of exceptionality in the case given her background and the facts of the case.”
Judge Lynch told Douglas she had been “in a high position of trust” within the hospital which she had abused before then abusing the trust of her new employers.
“Obviously you are an extremely dishonest individual who cannot accept responsibility for your own finances,” Douglas was told by the judge who concluded there were no exceptional circumstances he could see that would justify keeping her out of prison.
In addition to the 14 month sentence, half to be served in jail snd half on licence, the judge also imposed a £25 offenders levy.