Northern Ireland news

Suspended sentence for GP over £10,000 loan fraud from patient

Dr Michelle Mellotte leaves Downpatrick courthouse after being given a suspended sentence. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
Staff Reporter

A GP who exploited a vulnerable patient when she borrowed £10,000 has been given a suspended prison sentence.

Michelle Mellotte (61) took the money in February 2010, saying it would be repaid that summer, but it was only returned after police began an investigation the following year.

The former doctor in Ederney admitted a single charge of fraud by abuse of position.

She now faces being struck off.

Judge Stephen Fowler told her the offence warranted a 12-month custodial sentence, but it would be suspended for two years given the "highly exceptional circumstances".

He said there was "little the courts can do to punish you more than the public humiliation" of exposing the "significant breach of trust".

Omagh Crown Court, sitting in Downpatrick on Monday, was told that patient Michael McGrory was suffering from Alzheimer's and the GP was aware of his deteriorating mental and physical health when she went to his home to "ask him for a favour" to help her out of financial difficulties.

The elderly, unmarried man agreed to sign a cheque for £10,000 in the presence of his home help and she wrote on the stub that she would "pay him back in the summer of 2010".

The money was used to pay off debts.

When it was not repaid Mollette was pressed by the home help and the General Medical Council and police subsequently launched investigations into the loan arrangement.

The £10,000 was paid back in full to Mr McGrory, who died in 2012.

A defence lawyer said ahead of any hearing into her professional misconduct Mellotte had "voluntarily erased herself from the medical register after 40 years" following the "gross error of judgement".

"It was a 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' situation," he said. "There is no suggestion whatsoever of her having a lavish lifestyle."

Mellotte, who acted as GP to Arthur McElhill who killed himself, his partner and five children in a house fire in Omagh in 2007, was said to have been suffering from depression before the offence.

Judge Fowler said the doctor, of Bannagh Road, Kesh, Co Fermanagh, was not motivated by greed and it was clear from testimonials she was dedicated to her patients, and had cared for many people in a "compassionate and selfless way" - supporting some by paying for groceries and paying off rent arrears.

He said she did not see anything wrong with the "unorthodox but also inappropriate" loan but had she contested the charge and been found guilty, she faced a prison sentence of between 18 and 21 months.

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