Ipswich GP practice manager Caryl Heath who stole £263k from surgery avoids immediate jail term

Dr Hubert Lelijveld and practice manager, Caryl Heath outside the Burlington Ro

EADT NEWS REBECCA Dr Hubert Lelijveld and practice manager, Caryl Heath outside the Burlington Road Surgery in Ipswich. PIC RICHARD SNASDELL

A practice manager at an Ipswich doctors’ surgery who stole more than £260,000 has walked free from court after a judge decided not to send her straight to prison.

Caryl Heath, who earned £38,000-a-year at Burlington Primary Care in Burlington Road, gave herself a 50% pay rise after being told her salary wasn’t going to be increased and also made unauthorised monthly payments totalling more than £20,000 into her bank account, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Heath, who worked at the health centre for more than 20 years, also paid herself thousands of pounds of unrecorded and unauthorised overtime, said Michael Crimp, prosecuting.

Heath, 55, of Farriers Close, Martlesham, admitted theft by an employee of £263,000 between 2009 and 2014 and was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a six month electronically-monitored curfew from 7pm-7am.

A hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act will take place at a later date after Heath’s financial affairs have been examined.

Sentencing her, Judge David Goodin described what she had done as “beneath contempt” and said she had betrayed her colleagues and the doctors who employed her.

“They must feel entirely betrayed by you because they were,” he said.

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He said he “just” felt able to pass a suspended prison sentence because of her guilty pleas, her previous good character and after hearing mitigation.

“It might be said that having stolen around £250,000 from your employers you are walking free from court today but you don’t. You have to bear a number of factors that will weigh heavily on someone in their mid fifties who has spent an entire part of her life held in high regard as a hard working member of society.”

The court heard that although Heath had admitted stealing £263,000 the total loss including national insurance and superannuations was nearer £300,000.

Mr Crimp said Heath began working at the health centre in 1993 as an administration assistant and was promoted to practice manager in 2001.

By 2013 her pay was £20 an hour with a gross salary of £38,000.

Heath had responsibility for accounting records and the payroll and was regarded by her employers as a hardworking and loyal employee, said Mr Crimp.

He said that in 2011 she had taken on the responsibility of the centre’s pharmacy and was given the use of a car as a reward for her hard work.

In 2013 Heath was told her salary wouldn’t be increased because of changes in funding and she had taken it upon herself to pay herself £30 an hour - an increase of 50%.

Her dishonesty came to light in 2014 after she underwent major surgery and a doctor became suspicious after looking at the practice’ accounts.

Steven Dyble, for Heath, said his client intended to repay £130,000 of the money she had stolen from the sale of her home and a further £20,000 from her savings.

He said Heath had amassed credit card debts of £50,000 after her former husband was made redundant and suffered a breakdown.

Heath had suffered a brain haemorrhage in the late 1990s and she and her husband had divorced in 2010.

Mr Dyble said Heath had since undergone surgery for ovarian cancer and had remarried in 2014 but was now separated.

“She felt quite wrongly she was entitled to remuneration for her duties,” he said.

Jo Lennox, business practice manager at Burlington Primary Care, said Heath left the business in August 2014.

She said: “It’s a matter that arose in the practice some time ago, and it was reported to the relevant authorities for investigation. It must be stressed that it relates to historic financial management concerns and been considered an internal matter.

“The partners would like to express that is has had no effect in respect of our patients, and the confidentiality and service has been our continued focus. No public money was involved.”