Woman jailed for robbing hepatitis C group

A court has ruled that the Health Service Executive is to get €63,500 compensation from the former director of a hepatitis C support group who stole more than €116,000 from the organisation.
Woman jailed for robbing hepatitis C group

Yesterday, Bernadette Warnock, 63, was jailed for two years. 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 closed in 2014 following a HSE audit.

Warnock, who contracted hepatitis C at the age of 24, has four previous convictions for forging cheques from her employer in 1990.

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

The judge 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,” said Judge Greally.

Ms Tait told the court that her division ringfences €25m each year to provide various medical services and supports to the 1,350 hepatitis C sufferers in the country.

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

The court heard in earlier sentence hearings that Positive Action is 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 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.

Ronan Kennedy, defending, handed in family and friend testimonials on her behalf.

He said he was instructed to offer an apology and that Warnock recognised the consequences and impact of her actions.

“It is an understatement to say she is deeply ashamed,” said Mr Kennedy.

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.

Mr Kennedy handed in medical reports and said she came before the court with health issues which significantly deteriorated over the past few months. Counsel asked that she be given credit for her effort to rehabilitate.

He said she had done much to make sure it would not happen again. He said what she had done has taken a significant toll on her.

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