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Convicted diazepam pharmacist escapes strike-off due to MHRA delays

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Convicted diazepam pharmacist escapes strike-off due to MHRA delays

A pharmacist who was convicted of the illegal wholesale supply of controlled drugs including diazepam and zopiclone will not be struck off the register because of delays in the MHRA investigating his case, the GPhC’s fitness to practise committee has decided. 

Darren Lee Kellett, who last year was given a suspended custodial sentence by York Crown Court, received a 12-month suspension order following a fitness to practise hearing held via videolink on March 20-21, a recently published GPhC report reveals.

Mr Kellett, who joined the register in 1990 and previously owned three pharmacies in North Yorkshire and Leeds, had pleaded guilty to four counts involving the supply of almost two million tablets of the Class C controlled drugs diazepam, zopiclone, zolpidem and nitrazepam between January 2014 and April 2016. His concurrent sentences are due to expire on May 12 2024. 

While he had held a Wholesale Distributors Authorisation (Human) Licence (WHA(H)) during the relevant period, he did not hold a Home Office Controlled Drugs Licence (HOCDL) as required by law.

Mr Kellett argued that the WDA(H) granted to him in May 2014 “essentially authorised him” to supply a number of controlled drugs, which the MHRA described as an “error”. However, he then continued making wholesale supplies “almost on a monthly basis” after acknowledging in an April 3 email that he did not hold the necessary HOCDL and claimed that “none [of the relevant controlled drugs] will be stocked”.

While the judge deciding Mr Kellett’s case in 2022 said his actions were “unconscionable” and “clearly cross the custody threshold,” he reduced the sentence because of the six-year delay in the MHRA concluding its investigation. Judge Simon Hickey ordered Mr Kellett to hand over proceeds from the illegal sales amounting to £140,525 or face an 18-month prison sentence.

During his hearing last month, the GPhC’s FtP committee noted the “long and unusual history of this case, in which we accept that there was error and delay on the part of the MHRA and also a failure on the part of the council to escalate matters in response to the delays”.

It said that while Mr Kellett has “been working as a [locum] pharmacist without concerns” since the High Court refused an extension of his interim suspension in July 2020, his actions had been so serious as to warrant a decision of impaired fitness to practise.

“In particular we find an inconsistency between his assertion in his statement of 16 March 2023 that his actions were ‘never for personal gain’ and the answer given under cross examination at the Crown Court,” the committee said. Mr Kellett had claimed he was “just unfortunately selling off… the remaining stock I had to sell”.

The committee decided removing him from the register would be “disproportionate,” citing factors such as the length of time since the offending actions and the remedial steps he has taken since then, such as “surrendering his WDA(H)”.

Instead, it imposed a suspension order for the maximum possible period of 12 months, with a review to take place before the end of this period. An interim suspension order was imposed “with immediate effect” to cover the 28-day period during which Mr Kellett may appeal the ruling.  

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