How a health app helped to prove a murder

A recent British case demonstrates that a new age of evidence may be available.

By Catherine Allen Partner, Mason Hayes & Curran

THE FITNESS TO Practise Committee of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) in the UK recently directed the removal of a pharmacist’s registration following his conviction for the murder of his wife.

The case demonstrated to prosecutors, and indeed professional regulators, that a new age of evidence may be available and should be considered when investigating complaints.

In December 2018, the pharmacist was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years imprisonment when he was found guilty of strangling his wife with a plastic bag.

It was proven at his trial that the pharmacist had subdued his wife with insulin before suffocating her.

Forensic evidence was produced at trial which showed that the pharmacist had conducted online research about strangulation and the effects of insulin for a number of years in advance of his crime.

In an effort to cover up his crime, the pharmacist then, immediately after killing his wife, ransacked the family home in an attempt to make the murder look like a break-in gone wrong.

Interestingly, the pharmacist’s attempt to deceive the authorities in this manner was thwarted when they examined data from a health app on his mobile phone.

This data was used and crucial to secure the conviction. Unknown to the pharmacist at the time of his crimes, his iPhone was actively monitoring his activity, and the data revealed his frantic running around the house as he staged the burglary by running up and down the stairs.

Data from the phone of his deceased wife was also examined, and revealed that her health app recorded no movement until shortly after her death, when the pharmacist took her phone from her body and dropped it outside in an attempt to make it look like the “burglar” had dropped it when leaving the house.

In June 2019, the Fitness to Practise Committee convened to consider the pharmacist’s registration status in light of his conviction. An allegation was made that his fitness to practise was impaired due to his conviction.

Attention was drawn to the fact that the pharmacist was not present before the committee, despite his being put on notice. The notice had been served on the pharmacist in the prison where he is serving his sentence.

The committee proceeded in his absence, noting that it was in the public interest to do so and that the pharmacist had not asked for the hearing to be postponed, nor had he responded to any of the correspondence sent to him.

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The committee found that the pharmacist’s fitness to practise was impaired by reason of the conviction.

It was noted that this finding was also required on public interest grounds in order to uphold professional standards and public confidence in the profession. The committee directed that the pharmacist’s entry in the register of pharmacists be removed.

The regulation of pharmacists in the UK operates under a different legislative structure and to a different standard of proof than its Irish equivalent, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

This case shows that new evidence may be available. It is likely to be only a matter of time before such evidence plays a key role in the professional regulatory context again.

Catherine Allen is a partner in the public, regulatory & investigations department at Mason Hayes & Curran.

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