Published: 17:09, 11 January 2022
| Updated: 15:55, 12 January 2022
A paramedic couple addicted to opiates stole pain-relieving drugs from dying patients to feed their habit.
Ruth Lambert and Jessica Silvester from Margate, targeted 29 homes during lockdown and swiped the vital medication from patients receiving end-of-life care.
Lambert, 33, and Silvester, 29, who are engaged, traded WhatsApp messages identifying potential victims, then wore official outfits to help con them, Canterbury Crown Court heard.
The South East Coast Ambulance medics on one occasion targeted a victim for morphine moments after she died.
A judge said: “This was an extraordinarily callous and uncaring form of exploitation of the most vulnerable people often when they were terminally ill or dying or in some cases when they had actually died.”
“Initially there were seven distraction burglaries in which a nurse appeared to come to people’s houses, where the victims, or their relatives, were at end-of-life care,” prosecutor Alex Matthews explained.
“Someone in a uniform would come along in a mask or an apron looking the part, come into the house and say I need to check your medication or your relative’s medication.”
The pair came under investigation after the relative of a deceased victim alerted the authorities.
“One victim was feeling unwell, he was in pain and suffering and the medicine was gone, and he passed away the next day,” Ms Matthews said.
After identifying them on CCTV officers raided their Margate home on August 4 last year to discover drugs labelled with the names of various victims.
A probe would uncover they racked up 29 burglaries, with Lambert invading properties and Silvester raiding NHS databases for potential targets.
“Some of those impacted have now died, some are unwell, some await the outcome of this case," Ms Matthews added.
“On one occasion they turned up after someone had died that day."
Victims were targeted in Thanet, Canterbury, Whitstable, Faversham and Herne Bay.
Colin Singleton’s home was targeted five hours after his wife Linda died having suffered with terminal cancer.
The retired construction boss called it a “callous and cruel crime” which, having delayed his grieving process, was “shocking beyond belief”.
“Linda, my wife for 30 years, lost her battle with cancer, about two hours later I received a call from a district nurse who said they had to collect my wife’s drugs," he said.
After calling the hospital the following day it became apparent they were victims of crime.
A woman referred to as Miss Bailey in court told how she felt “pushed” into providing the medicine, and Miss Chadwick described now feeling “vulnerable and on edge”.
Another carer for her husband said: “The nurse looked genuine, she was using an apron and gloves.”
Indeed, Lambert and Silvester began targeting the homes during lockdown, when masks had become commonplace as their addictions spiralled out of control.
Lambert would infiltrate the homes, sometimes asking patients for a glass of water then raiding the medicine cabinet.
On other occasions she would insist the drugs were out of date or, failing that, simply run away with the medication.
Meanwhile Silvester would mine data from NHS databases, the pair colluding over WhatsApp for new targets.
The pair, formerly of Gap Road, Margate, pleaded guilty to conspiring to burgle and conspiring to commit theft, having stolen a £14,000 ultrasound machine from the NHS.
They were each sentenced today to five years in prison.
Judge Rupert Lowe called it an “extraordinarily callous and uncaring form of exploitation of the most vulnerable people - often, when they were terminally ill, or dying, or in some cases when they had actually died".
“You Ruth Lambert realised that you were in a position to get your hands on opiate-based drugs and decided to self-medicate by stealing these drugs and using them to make you feel better," he said.
“And you confided in your partner what you were doing and she also had her own physical pains and started to use the same drugs and both of you became addicted over time.
“You Jessica Silvester were signed off sick for stress in March 2021, you Ruth Lambert were suspended from the ambulance service for stealing drugs.”
He continued: “Being more and dependant from the opiate drugs you realised that there were a lot of these drugs on prescription which people needed, particularly in end-of-life palliative care.
“And you had between you access to information which could lead you to the names and addresses of persons who had these items."
Their lawyers argued they became addicted to opiates after meeting as paramedics, after discovering the drug helped treat their physical and mental pain.
Nina Ellin, mitigating, said Lambert suffered mental trauma during her 15-year career, where she worked her way up to a critical care paramedic.
She argued Lambert self-medicated to help forget trauma and treat physical pain which she suffered since childhood.
But she slowly became addicted after first trying a patient’s left-over morphine.
Lambert was “deeply ashamed” of the “unforgivable crimes,” the lawyer added.
Silvester’s barrister said Lambert introduced her to opioids after she too suffered physical and mental trauma during her career as a paramedic.
He said before Silvester succumbed to the drug she was well-respected in her field, with her father describing her as “totally committed to the welfare of others”.
Detective Sergeant Jay Robinson from the Chief Constable’s Crime Squad said: "When reports came in regarding suspicious individuals visiting properties looking for medication, further work was carried out to review earlier burglary reports to Kent Police to see if they were linked.
"This led to the scale of Lambert and Silvester’s offending becoming clear.
"These offences were an astonishing abuse of position. These two thieves, whose jobs were to care for those in need, were plotting and stealing crucial medication from terminally-ill patients.
"Many of their victims have since passed away and will never know that justice has been done.
"Our investigation was carried out, knowing we had to represent those victims and do the very best for them.
"My thoughts are with the families of all those who were targeted by these thieves.
"We thank them for their support during what must have been an already difficult and sad time for them."
Dr Fionna Moore, medical director for South East Coast Ambulance Service, said: “We are shocked and saddened at the lengths to which these former members of staff went to, to commit their crimes and our thoughts are with all those affected.
“Their behaviour was a clear and targeted abuse of their position and does not reflect the commitment and integrity of our staff. As soon as we became aware of the allegations, we took swift action to suspend and then dismiss both individuals, working closely with Kent Police."