Healthcare assistant defrauded vulnerable patients

Mira Solmaz
Mira Solmaz was described in court as "cruel, cynical and ruthless" [City of London Police]

A healthcare assistant who targeted vulnerable patients in what a judge called "the most grotesque breach of trust" has been jailed for 15 months for fraud.

Mira Solmaz who worked at St Bartholomew's Hospital in the City of London, spent hundreds of pounds on victims' bank cards, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Prosecuting barrister Vivek D’Cruz described the 33-year-old's actions as "cruel, cynical and ruthless".

Hazel Longhurst, one of her victims, told BBC London: "I just didn't know that someone could be that evil, to prey on vulnerable people."

Ms Longhurst was taken to Barts with cancer in 2021, and at one point was told she had only a 5% chance of survival. Her weight dropped to just over six stone (38kg).

It was while she was seriously ill during seven months of treatment at the hospital that she was targeted by Solmaz.

Ms Longhurst, who herself had previously worked as a district nurse specialising in palliative care, said: "My whole career has been with helping people and caring for people.

"I couldn't believe someone could be in that sort of job with that responsibility and do what she did."

Hazel and daughter Melanie
Hazel Longhurst, pictured here with her daughter Melanie, has recovered well from her illness but says her faith in other people has been shaken [BBC]

The first clue something was wrong was when she received two text messages, warning her there had been unusual activity on two of her credit cards.

Confused, and knowing she had not been using them, Ms Longhurst dismissed the matter.

It was only when her daughter, Melanie, opened a letter from the bank that she became worried and contacted City of London Police, who she says immediately launched an investigation.

They discovered that Solmaz had used the cards to make about £1,650 worth of fraudulent purchases.

Takeaways, clothes and AirPods

She had also targeted another seriously ill patient, Todd Mallonee, who died in April 2021 aged 48.

Some £360 worth of transactions on his cards were linked to Solmaz.

The court heard the cards from both patients had been used to pay for food deliveries, clothes shopping and AirPods, as well as to pay off debt.

When Solmaz's phone was examined by police, they found images stored on it of bank cards and other personal details relating to three other people, including a nurse at Royal London Hospital.

Hazel (right) with daughter Melanie was being treated for cancer
Ms Longhurst was targeted at a time when Melanie was not able to be with her as much as she wanted due to the pandemic [BBC]

Ms Longhurst read a victim impact statement out in court, saying she was targeted when she was "as most physically vulnerable a person could be".

She said it had affected her recovery, adding: "I felt violated and very vulnerable and became paranoid of any member of staff coming into my room."

At an earlier hearing, Solmaz, of Mare Street in Hackney, pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud and three counts of possession of articles for use in fraud.

During sentencing, Solmaz wiped away tears as she sat in the dock.

Representing her, barrister Charlotte O’Connor said her client was psychologically vulnerable and had complex mental health issues.

Judge Gregory Perrins told Solmaz: "You took advantage of their obvious vulnerability, in the most grotesque breach of trust."

'Targeted and predatory'

Although Ms Longhurst's bank reimbursed the money, the stress and shock of realising she had been targeted has had a lasting impact.

Because her children did not have power of attorney, she found herself struggling to get through to the bank from her hospital bed.

"I was hours on the phone sometimes," she said.

Melanie told BBC London that she remained upset and angry to think of how her mother was taken advantage of, particularly as Covid restrictions at the time meant she could not be by her side as much as she wanted.

"Not being there, not being able to protect her, the thought of her lying in a bed unconscious.

"It was very targeted and predatory."

A Barts Health NHS Trust spokesperson said: "As soon as we became aware of the allegations against Ms Solmaz, she was suspended and an internal investigation launched.

"This was completed in December 2022, following the police's investigation, and Ms Solmaz was subsequently dismissed."

Det Con Stacie Cottrell, of City of London Police, said: "Mira Solmaz violated the trust and confidence of two vulnerable patients placed in her care, where the families of the victims expected their loved ones to be looked after."

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