A nurse who stole money off an elderly patient at Grevillea Gardens Nursing Home said he used the money to pay for cigarettes.
A nurse who stole money off an elderly patient at Grevillea Gardens Nursing Home said he used the money to pay for cigarettes. File

Nursing career up in puff of smoke

A NURSE who pilfered money from an elderly patient for more than a year to pay for cigarettes was caught out by a suspicious grandson who set up surveillance cameras to catch the thief.

It was discovered an enrolled male nurse, who worked at Grevillea Gardens Nursing Home where the woman was a patient, had been regularly stealing small amounts of money, which totalled $567 by the time he was caught.

When video footage confirmed the grandson’s suspicions, he took the evidence to police and Wade David Steele was questioned and charged with 40 counts of stealing.

Steele, 35, pleaded guilty to all 40 charges in Gympie Magistrates Court this week and said he had been taking the money to pay for a smoking habit he had been hiding from his wife.

The court heard Steele had unrestricted access to all patients’ rooms and had entered the woman’s room when it wasn’t occupied.

Footage showed him taking a key from a hiding place to open a locked drawer where the wallet was kept. It was believed he did this on 40 occasions from July 2009 to August 2010 and when Steele was interviewed by police in September, he admitted to it all.

Police prosecutor Senior Constable Lisa Manns said a lack of criminal history suggested the offending period was out of character for Steele however, she said the crimes were akin to stealing as a servant and needed to be dealt with as such.

“It’s a big leap from a minor offence (of shoplifting he committed) in 2000 where he received a fine...

“It is prosecution’s submission the defendant be convicted and sentenced to a suspended term of imprisonment... (to act) as a deterrent,” she said.

In Steele’s defence, solicitor Chris Anderson said his client had repaid the money owing and written a letter of apology to his victim.

“For the last two months he has felt the hurt this has caused everyone,” he said.

“My client is truly sorry for it and the guilt he has been feeling for the past few months could be seen as punishment enough.

“(The crimes) took place because...he started up an old habit of smoking. He took the money so his wife wouldn’t see the money going out of their account.”

The court heard Steele had been aware the money was in the drawer and had to initially search the room to find the key to open it.

Mr Anderson said Steele resigned from his position when he was given a show-cause letter by the nursing regulation body.

“He has since been to ethics training which has reinforced what is right and what is wrong... A conviction recorded will have a fatal impact on his nursing career.

“My client said he would be happy with any penalty as long as it doesn’t see him going to jail.”

Magistrate Maxine Baldwin said it seemed silly for Steele to be in court with police talking prison terms for taking $5 to $10 for cigarettes.

“However, that is overridden by the fact (you were stealing off) an elderly person whose care was entrusted to you,” she said.

“Organisations like Grevillea Gardens rely on honesty and integrity from employers to survive. From this point of view, this is indeed a very serious offence.”

Mrs Baldwin took into account Steele’s early guilty plea, his strong sense of remorse and attempts at rehabilitation.

“Of course everyone is sorry when they get caught,” she said and placed Steele, of Mayfair Drive, Southside, on probation for six months.

He was also ordered to complete 120 hours of community service within a year. No conviction was recorded.

Gympie Times

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