A young student died of asphyxiation after a hospital doctor had handed out recreational drugs to friends who returned to his Rugby home after a night out.
And ‘gifted’ doctor James Morgan’s career is now in tatters after he was jailed for six months by a judge at Warwick Crown Court.
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 thatJudge Sylvia de Bertodano
Morgan, 29, of Wood Street, Rugby, 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.
Prosecutor Lal Amarasinghe said that Morgan was employed by Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust as a registrar at Walsgrave hospital in Coventry.
He and his partner Simon Chapman played for Northampton Outlaws RFC with John Deptford, who had formed an online relationship with Mr Steen before staying with him when the team had a game in Newcastle.
In July Mr Deptford told Mr Steen that he was going out with friends for a meal to celebrate him going to Serbia for work, and the student said he would travel down to join him.
The four men went to the Steam Turbine pub and had a meal before moving on to another pub, with Morgan and Mr Steen walking together and chatting as they walked there.
After having more to drink, they all went back to Morgan’s home where he got a bottle of ‘poppers’ which was passed round 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 pinched him to try to get a reaction, but without any response, and immediately 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.
Mr Amarasinghe said Mr Deptford, who knew Mr Steen had a fetish for putting socks in his mouth, found he had a sock blocking his throat, and pulled it out.
Paramedics then arrived, but Mr Steen, who was only 23 when he died, ‘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, which is a synthetic stimulant, on a chopping board and a bottle which had contained GBL, which can be an anaesthetic and hypnotic agent but which taken in large amounts can cause respiratory failure.
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 brought down some ‘poppers’ for everyone and some GBL, which converts to GHB in the system, 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.’
And he commented: “This case is tragic in many ways. At the heart of it is the death of a talented student, and in the dock to face the consequences is a gifted doctor.
“The case is complicated by this fact: as we understand it, the cause of death was asphyxiation. What the deceased had done was put a sock in his mouth which, according to Mr Deptford, he had partially swallowed. Nobody knew it was there until after his death.
“The role the drug played is that it increased the risk of asphyxiation. It was not the direct cause of death.”
Asking the judge not to jail Morgan, Mr Millington said he was not just a registrar, but a teacher of junior doctors – and a custodial sentence ‘is going to put an end to all of that.’
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.
As he sought to cope, he began mixing with people who shared his predicament and who were involved with recreational drugs – and he began to use drugs to escape from his problems.
“The sad fact is that having devoted so many years of his life to becoming a doctor, he has put his career in jeopardy because of the irresponsibility he displayed during that social gathering.
“That is something he will have to live with, together with the guilt and feeling of responsibility over the death of the deceased,” added Mr Millington.
Jailing Morgan, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano told him: “You are here because of a criminal offence you committed which resulted in the tragic death of 23-year-old James Steen, who was a student who you had only met the previous evening.
“When you woke in the morning Mr Steen was dead, having taken drugs supplied by you.
“Although he 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.
“You are going to have to work very hard to rebuild your life – but that is something James Steen will never be able to do.
“James Steen was a young man on the very threshold of life. He had everything to live for. Nothing you can do, and I can do today can reconcile his family to their loss.
“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.”