Doctor jailed for giving student drugs which led to his death - The Rugby Observer
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14th Aug, 2022

Doctor jailed for giving student drugs which led to his death

Rugby Editorial 24th Mar, 2015 Updated: 27th Oct, 2016

A YOUNG student died of asphyxiation after a hospital doctor handed out recreational drugs to friends who returned to his Rugby home after a night out.

‘Gifted’ doctor James Morgan’s career is now in tatters after he was jailed for six months by a judge at Warwick Crown Court.

Walsgrave Hospital registrar Morgan, 29, of Wood Street pleaded guilty to supplying the class B drug Mephedrone and the class C drug gamma-hydroxybutrate (GHB) to others in July last year.

He was charged following the death of 23-year-old Newcastle University student James Steen, who was originally from Northern Ireland, on July 6.

In July, Morgan, his partner Simon Chapman, their friend John Deptford and Mr Steen – with whom Mr Deptford had stayed after the two formed an online relationship – went out for a meal and drinks in Rugby.

The four men went back to Morgan’s home, where he passed round a bottle of amyl nitrate – ‘poppers’ – for them to sniff.

Mr Deptford, who had been quite drunk, could not recall anything else until waking up and realising he and the other three were all naked and Mr Steen was lying on the floor.

Realising something was wrong, he called to Morgan who examined the student.

An ambulance was called, and as they waited they tried to resuscitate Mr Steen but realised his airway was blocked.

Prosecutor Lal Amarasinghe said Mr Deptford, who knew Mr Steen had a fetish for sniffing socks and putting them in his mouth, found he had a sock blocking his throat, and pulled it out.

By the time paramedics arrived, Mr Steen ‘was already beyond help.’ Morgan was arrested in the street nearby, and the other two men were also arrested.

In the house officers found traces of Mephedrone on a chopping board and a bottle which had contained GBL, which converts to GHB in the system and can cause respiratory failure if taken in large amounts.

And Mr Amarasinghe observed that the ‘relatively high level of GHB’ found in Mr Steen’s system would have contributed to him suffocating.

When he was interviewed Morgan said he had ‘poppers’ for everyone else and GBL for himself, and passed out after taking some – and the next thing he knew was Mr Deptford waking him up.

Christopher Millington QC, defending, conceded: “This was a talented student, and the consequence of his death has caused terrible grief to his family.

“This is quite a difficult sentencing exercise because Your Honour will have to consider whether a custodial sentence ought to be passed when the consequences will be to deprive the public of the services of a gifted doctor.”

He pointed out there was a ‘stand-out reference’ from Dr Belinda Stanley, a member of the GMC’s disciplinary tribunal, who described Morgan as ‘among the best she has ever worked with.’

Mr Millington said that in 2012, after separating from a sexual partner, Morgan, who had not told his parents of his sexuality, was diagnosed with HIV and began to use drugs to escape from his problems.

Jailing Morgan, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano told him: “Although Mr Steen died of respiratory failure as a result of a blockage of his airway, the class C drug supplied was a direct contributor to that.

“It’s tragic cases like this which reinforce the message courts send out when they sentence for the supply of drugs, that drugs of whatever class ruin lives. You, better than anyone, should know that.

“You are not only a doctor, you are an outstanding one. So as well as taking James’s life, you have ruined your own life. Your career, which you worked so hard to build, is in jeopardy.

“As a doctor, even in a social context, you were in a position of authority. He had taken a great deal more of the class C drug than any of the other three of you. Allowing that to happen was a terrible dereliction of your duty.

“The message has to go out that if someone, in particular a doctor, supplies a non-drug-user with illegal drugs and they die as a result, they must go to prison.”

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