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HSE to receive €63k from woman who stole money from Hepatitis C support group

Bernadette Warnock, former director of Positive Action, was jailed for two years today.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A COURT HAS ruled that the Health Service Executive is to receive €63,500 in compensation from the former director of a Hepatitis C support group who stole over €116,000 from the organisation.

Today, Bernadette Warnock (63) was jailed for two years after Judge Melanie Greally. adjourned the imposition of the sentence last month to allow the woman to attend a medical appointment.

Warnock stole the money while operating the finances of Positive Action Ltd which was set up in 1994 to help women who contracted Hepatitis C through contaminated blood product in maternity hospitals.

Warnock of Garrettstown, Dunshaughlin, Co Meath pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 71 counts of theft and fraud between 2009 and 2011 totalling €116,226.

Positive Action had 730 members and received the majority of its funding from the HSE. It was closed down in 2014 following a HSE audit.

Forging cheques

Warnock, who herself suffers from Hepatitis C after contracting it at the age of 24, has four previous convictions for forging cheques from her employer in 1990.

The judge had adjourned the case last month after hearing Warnock’s health had deteriorated in recent months, leaving her house bound, and a stay was put on her sentence to allow her attend for a hospital appointment.

Today her barrister Ronan Kennedy BL said his client wished to express her gratitude to the court to allow her to attend that appointment. He said Warnock was now on medication that should stabilise her health.

Judge Greally said she wished that Hepatitis C sufferers benefit directly from the compensation raised. She noted that there were three support groups which the HSE allocated funding to but said she had concerns about the money going to these organisations directly as none of them were registered charities.

She said she was satisfied, having heard evidence from Michelle Tait, the National Co-ordinator of Hepatitis C Services within the HSE, that if an order directed the money go to her division, the former members of the Positive Action Group would benefit.

“I appreciate that there may be a more direct route but this seems to be the safest way,” Judge Greally said.

Services

Tait told the court that her division ring fences €25 million in its budget each year to provide various medical services and supports to the 1,350 hepatitis C sufferers in the country. She said the funding is allocated to three organisations that provide the services.

Tait said her division of the HSE would undertake to ensure that the €63,500 would go towards supporting these three organisations.

The court heard in earlier sentence hearings that Positive Action was in liquidation, with one of the main creditors being the HSE.

Judge Greally said the offences were “an enormous betrayal of trust” and said: “Acts like these cast doubt and suspicion over the charity sector.”

She said that the court could not disregard the fact that in the midst of her offending Warnock had performed much laudable work. She said her loss of reputation had been entirely merited but the court could take it into account.

Judge Greally imposed a three year sentence and suspended the final 12 months.

‘Deeply ashamed’

Kennedy handed in testimonials from family and friends on Warnock’s behalf. He said he had been instructed to offer an apology and said that Warnock recognised the consequences and impact of her actions.

“It is an understatement to say she is deeply ashamed,” he told Judge Greally.

He said Warnock did not shy away from the aggravating features in this case such as the sum of money involved, the protracted time period, the breach of trust and the fact it was public money.

He said in mitigation it was not a sophisticated crime and she had made no real effort to cover her trail. He said she had put in place measures to prevent her taking further money before the offences came to light and had made full admissions.

Kennedy said it was difficult to see how she could have been more co-operative.

He handed in medical reports and said she came before the court with health issues which had significantly deteriorated over the past few months.

Counsel asked that she be given credit for her effort to rehabilitate over the last two years during intensive therapy. He said she had done as much as she could to make sure this would not happen again. He said what she had done has taken a significant toll on her.

Kennedy said Warnock’s fall from good standing was a rapid and public affair and she suffered a significant fall from grace “hitting all the branches of the tree on the way down.”

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Conor Gallagher and Isabel Hayes

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