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Nurse stole painkillers and topped up bottles with water to cover tracks Laura Howe; carer who beat cancer as a child took drugs when at a 'low ebb'.

Byline: ROB KENNEDY Court reporter @ChronicleCourt

A NURSE stole strong liquid painkillers from a medicine cupboard on the children's ward where she worked and topped bottles up with water to try to cover her tracks.

Laura Howe was looking after poorly youngsters at the RVI, having beaten cancer three times as a child.

But the respected nurse and charity worker ruined her reputation by stealing codeine and oramorph - consuming the drugs while on duty on occasions to self-medicate while she was at a low ebb.

A court heard she sometimes diluted the bottles she stole from, exposing patients who might need the medication to potential harm as the strength of the drugs had been reduced.

Howe was caught out after covert cameras were placed in the cupboard when staff noticed the medicines were going missing. When the footage was viewed, she was seen consuming the drugs.

Now Howe, 32, who admitted theft and exposing to or supplying an adulterated medicinal product, has been given a community order and told she must do 120 hours of unpaid work.

Jessica Slaughter, prosecuting, told Newcastle Crown Court discrepancies in the codeine stock levels were noticed while Howe was working on the paediatric ward at the RVI.

In July 2017, a member of staff observed that a bottle of codeine was not as thick as it was expected to be and three bottles were removed and tested.

Rather than being at or close to 100% concentration, they were at noticed and on March 1, samples were tested and were found to be of a reduced strength.

Miss Slaughter said: "This led to covert CCTV being installed to try to identify what was happening with the medication.

"Footage shows the defendant consuming liquid codeine and oramorph while on duty and shows her topping up the bottles with water.

"The defendant was interviewed and explained the background.

"She said for about a year she was taking medication, codeine, once or twice a day at 50ml.

"She said she took oramorph once or twice to numb the pain. She's talking about mental pain as a result of issues she was having."

In another interview with police, the covert footage was shown to her.

Miss Slaughter said: "She accepted using sterilised water to top up the bottles and accepted there was a risk inherent in that patients might not receive sufficient pain relief and there was a potential risk of such patients requiring further medication and therefore being subject to overdose.

"She said she topped it up because she was worried she would be caught and was wanting to cover her tracks."

The prosecutor added: "This is a breach of a high degree of trust and responsibility.

Footage the consuming codeine oramorph on Jessica "She was taking it regularly, every day for a period of time."

Brian Hegarty, defending, said codeine use for patients on the ward had been "all but eliminated" two years before the offending.

He added: "She was not aware of codeine being dispensed to any patient while she was working on the ward." Mr Hegarty said Howe adulterated the medicines about five times, adding: "There's no evidence anyone has been harmed as a consequence, although it was clearly a reckless thing for her to have done."

Mr Hegarty highlighted a series of glowing references about Howe and told the court: "She had a fairly distinguished career which, if not in tatters, is highly compromised as a consequence of her actions.

"She has given herself selflessly to help people throughout her life.

"Her health difficulties spanned her childhood and during the treatment for those cancer conditions, she was prescribed morphinebased medication.

"While working and struggling to keep going as a result of a number of personal difficulties and setbacks, she began to self-medicate with these drugs."

The court heard Howe had setbacks in relation to IVF treatment before the offences, her childhood treatment having rendered her infertile, but has recently had more positive news on that front.

Mr Hegarty said Howe had suffered cancer three times in childhood and continues to endure difficulties as a result.

He added: "She chose to pursue a career to help those at their lowest ebb, just as she was helped when she needed extensive treatment."

Howe wishes she had got help at the time and is now getting professional help and feels much better, Mr Hegarty said.

The court heard she has done "significant charity work" and she and her family have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for various cancer charities. Mr Hegarty said Howe was "selfless", offended while "under enormous pressure" and has suffered as a result.

shows defendant liquid and while duty Slaughter The court heard Howe, of Grasmere Drive, Middlesbrough, was initially suspended but was allowed to return to work under stringent conditions and is now free to apply for roles.

worried she and was her on the better, suffere"Footage shows the defendant consuming liquid codeine and oramorph while on duty Jessica Slaughter


71%, 45% and 25%, indicating they had been tampered with. Hospital bosses informed the police and in October 2017, another discrepancy came to light. In February 2018, a further reduction in medication levels were

Laura Howe raised funds for charity

Laura Howe outside court
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 3, 2019
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