Medical school dropout sentenced for sending tutors threatening letters
Colin Joyce (34) threatened to release confidential patient details on Wikipedia
Colin Joyce threatened to release confidential information about 1,300 patients and have their details posted on Wikipedia. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
A Cork medical school dropout who sent threatening letters to 10 of his past supervisors and tutors at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has been given a three-year suspended sentence.
Colin Joyce (34) was angry that the college had refused him readmission to allow him to complete his medical degree after he had attempted, over the course of four years, to complete his fourth year.
He ultimately chose to leave in 2007 due to mental health difficulties.
In 2012, Joyce started to contact a number of doctors, professors and staff by letter and threatened the recipients he would release confidential information regarding 1,300 patients and have their details posted on the Wikipedia website.
Joyce included personal information about the doctors in each letter. He told one he was sorry to hear her sister had died recently of ovarian cancer and he had information about another man’s wife and children, which the man found alarming.
He wrote that he felt there was a conspiracy against him and said he was working with “others abroad” so even if he were to be “locked up” the information would still be released.
Joyce at times demanded amounts of cash while other letters insisted on his readmittance into the college and regularly threatened to release this confidential information.
He said he knew “heavy individuals” around Dublin and had “a friendship” with the Taliban and that he would get local paramilitaries to put together a bomb.
He claimed he had the power to bring about the closure of the RCSI.
Joyce, of the Kingsley, Carrigrohane Road, Cork, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 10 sample counts of posting a letter, enclosing a grossly offensive and menacing article to various doctors on dates between June 25th and October 8th, 2012. He had no previous convictions.
Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, said his client was a psychotically vulnerable man who was experiencing emotional turmoil and had chronic intense feelings of anger and bitterness.
He told the court his client was frustrated about his perceived mistreatment by RCSI.
He said Joyce had an autism spectrum disorder and had persecution delusions that people were intent on making sure he didn’t complete his medical degree.
Judge Martin Nolan said Joyce had “worrying characteristics” and that he was adamant the way he was dealt with by RCSI was “ultimately wrong”. The judge said Joyce was finding it difficult to understand he must move on.
He said it was unusual to see a psychological report before the court where “insight isn’t manifest” and said that Joyce does “not have insight into his behaviour”.
“He has a deep-seated belief in his own rightness,” the judge said before he added that he was aware of Joyce’s condition and said he was sorry that he has “that burden to carry”.
The judge said his “overriding purpose” in sentencing was to “protect innocent people” and he had concluded that Joyce was not going to start the campaign again.
He sentenced him to three years in prison which he suspended in full on condition that Joyce undergo probation supervision for 12 months and not enter the RCSI or approach or contact any of its staff in anyway.
Garda Francis Chaney told Lorcan Staines, defending, that many of the doctors realised it was Joyce who had written the letters and in some Joyce had enclosed his own thesis.
Gardaí secured a warrant to search Joyce’s home in Cork and he was fully co-operative and handed over his laptop.
They also found an axe, lump hammer, mallet and bags of rocks, which Joyce said he had to protect himself from vigilantes.
Joyce told gardaí he was expecting paramilitaries because he had been making false claims about them.
The gardaí also found one letter that contained maps on which the addresses of three of the doctors had been highlighted.
Joyce told gardaí: “These people have to understand that I am not going to attack them.”
Garda Chaney confirmed there has been no further harassment of RCSI staff.
The court heard that Joyce was at student at RCSI between 1999 and 2007. He initially completed first, second and third years successfully but left in 2003 due to the heavy workload.
He then received psychological intervention to deal with alcohol abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression before he returned in 2005 in an effort to complete fourth year.
He had had to repeat fourth year and did this in 2007 but he left permanently that year due to health difficulties. He later secured a degree in physiology in University College Cork.
In one letter Joyce demanded that €20,000 be paid over to him in instalments to prevent the information being posted, while in another he said he was suing the recipient for making false accusations.
Joyce wrote that he would get local paramilitaries to put together a bomb and in another letter wrote he would donate his own body to the anatomy department.
He told others that he didn’t spend eight years in the RSCI to “beg on the streets”.
In another letter he demanded €48,000 and said he would provide details of an account for it to be lodged into at a later date, while in another he demanded of that doctor that he give “a good word” for his readmittance into the college.
Joyce told another professor that his own neighbours were from Afghanistan, that he had a friendship with the Taliban and that he knew “heavy individuals” all over Dublin. He had information in relation to the professor’s wife and children, which he found worrying. This man remembered Joyce.
He demanded another doctor, who had treated Joyce, declare him medically fit to attend RCSI and threatened to release the information of 20 patients if he didn’t do this.
The word “HELP!!!!!” was written at the bottom of this letter. He said he would target doctors and their families.
A letter sent to another professor was threatening to both himself and his family. Joyce said he knew dangerous individuals and he claimed he could bring about the closure of the RCSI.
He said he had confidential information in relation to 350 patients and he would contact those people himself directly.
In a Garda interview Joyce accepted the letters were threatening and said he had been desperate. He agreed the letters had been intended as a threat, that they were sinister and some could be considered death threats.
He said he had information about patients that he had got from taking histories as a student and had saved on his laptop.
Mr O’Higgins agreed that his client’s behaviour appeared to have its root in psychological ill health and psychiatric issues and that many of the letters were very rambling.
He accepted that Joyce had “unresolved issues” with RCSI because of his exclusion from it.
Mr O’Higgins said a report from Dr Patrick Randal, clinical and forensic psychologist, outlined that Joyce had a psychotic disorder, was highly paranoid and was drinking heavily at the time.
Counsel said when his client abuses alcohol his feelings are amplified but informed the court that Joyce is currently not drinking.
Mr O’Higgins said with the proper psychiatric assistance Joyce could be a valuable member of society but accepted that there remains a denial and that his mental health issues have not been fully resolved.