A doctor’s receptionist who stole over €55,000 from her employer of almost 20 years has received a 15 month prison sentence.
nita Gallagher (54) had been working as a receptionist for Doctor John Peters at his practice in Clonee, Dublin 15, since 2001 and the doctor became suspicious in 2019 that money had been stolen.
He discovered through his own investigation that Gallagher was regularly stealing the €60 fee that private patients of the practice were paying instead of adding the cash to the till. Gallagher had been taking an average of €8,000 a year from 2013 to 2019.
Detective Garda Bernard Connaughton told Rónán Prendergast BL, prosecuting, that Dr Peter’s wife was the practice manager and Gallagher’s offending behaviour often increased while she was away for prolonged periods, on occasion while the woman was in hospital receiving medical treatment.
Gallagher resigned from the practice in September 2019 after Dr Peters called her in for a meeting to discuss the findings of his own internal investigation. She immediately made admissions and apologised, but asked that her family not be told about it.
Her marriage of 28 years broke down when gardaí later called at her home in June 2020 to arrest her after Dr Peters reported the thefts. Gallagher now lives with her elderly father.
Gallagher of Bramblefield Crescent, Littlepace, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to eight sample charges of stealing from the practice, Littlepace Medical Centre, on dates between January 2013 and August 2019. She has no previous convictions.
Judge Melanie Greally said that the offending was an extreme betrayal of the trust placed in Gallagher both as an employee and as a family friend in a small close knit family practice.
She noted that Gallagher was under “no financial pressure” motivating her to steal from her employer. Judge Greally described it as a crime of “opportunism” over a sustained period of time, during which Gallagher stole “at a level where detection was going to be difficult”.
She said there was no obvious explanation or motive given and the only apparent motivation was basic greed.
“Her actions were motivated by basic greed and opportunism presented by the position she held,” the judge said.
“She only stopped once she was detected,” Judge Greally said.
She noted that Gallagher’s father has since stepped in to repay the full amount stolen. She noted this as a factor in mitigation, alongside her guilty plea and her full and repeated expressions of remorse.
But she said that the aggravating factors, including the number of thefts and the persistence over a prolonged period of time, meant a custodial sentence was necessitated.
She set a headline sentence of three and a half years, but after taking mitigation into account she reduced this by one year. She suspended the final 15 months of this on condition that Gallagher keep the peace for that period.
She also ordered Gallagher to engage with the Probation Service and to attend her GP for a mental health review and “strongly advised” her to engage with therapeutic services and a money and budgeting service.
Ms Gallagher sobbed in court throughout much of the pronouncement of sentence while some supporters also became emotional and went to her after the custodial sentence was delivered.
Judge Greally had noted the very large number of letters and testimonials from family, friends and neighbours and former colleagues, which “all describe her as being very kind, good-natured, a good friend and neighbour”.
The judge also noted that Gallagher has since been diagnosed with depression and is taking medication. A psychological assessment stated she is prone to stress and has suffered with anxiety since her offending came to light.
Last week Judge Greally adjourned the case to today and remanded Gallagher on continuing bail, saying she needed time to consider the documentation handed in from her defence team.