AN IT contractor stole £12,000 worth of laptop from the NHS in a desperate attempt to clear his gambling debts.

Neil Murthick stole 27 computers which had been bought by the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust at the outbreak of the Covid pandemic to enable staff to work safely from home.

Murthick, whose wife works as a nurse, was branded 'selfish' by a judge as he was jailed for two years and two months.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 42-year-old was brought into the trust to update and prepare computers for staff but instead he was helping himself to laptops before selling them.

Judge Jonathan Carroll said: "The NHS is a golden treasure of which we are intensely proud of in this country. 2020 is a year that will live on in all of our memories because of the impact of the Covid pandemic.

"The NHS has gone above and beyond the call of duty, working relentlessly as they try to get a grip over this pandemic. Risking their own health and wellbeing, the doctors and nurses are going into hospital on a daily basis in circumstances where they know that the potential risks are intensely elevated.

"Yet they do it, week in and week out. We as a nation are almost bankrupting ourselves, this week we start our next England wide lockdown.

"People are staying at home, sometimes sadly losing their jobs, we are all as a nation having to pull together and make significant personal sacrifices."

The Northern Echo: Neil MurthickNeil Murthick

He added: "Over a period of time five months you were going to that storeroom taking out two to three computers at a time, hiding empty boxes stuffed at the back hoping they wouldn't be noticed until you were long gone.

"You were flogging those computers anywhere and everywhere, where you could get away with it, for a few hundred pounds each time for your own selfish needs to meet your gambling debt, a debt that was entirely of your own responsibility."

Rachel Butt, prosecuting, told the court how Murthick's boss had installed CCTV focusing on the storage cupboard where the laptops were kept and the defendant was caught removing three computers and placing them in a rucksack.

Murthick, of Inglewood Close, Darlington, pleaded guilty to theft by employee.

Police managed to trace some of the stolen computers which had been sold to businesses in Darlington and Middlesbrough and some were being sold on Facebook.

In mitigation, Kelleigh Lodge said her client had resolved his gambling, drug and alcohol addiction and was attempting to find work.