A fake doctor who gave bogus medical advice to a terminally-ill woman has avoided jail after a frustrated judge said: "I consider my hands tied."
Judge Donald Tait said "I wish I could do otherwise" as he gave a community order to Julie Higgins, a fantasist first-aider whose lies are alleged to have brought Angela Murray's life to an end prematurely.
The 54-year-old, who claimed to be a surgeon and oncology specialist at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, duped terminally-ill Mrs Murray, 59, into believing for a year she could be saved.
She told Mrs Murray she could help treat her incurable lung condition and find her a suitable donor, feeding her elaborate lies that included her claiming to have travelled the world in search of a match.
She has got away with it scot-free. I'm devastated and I worry she can just do it to someone else now
Angela Murray's husband Gregory
It was not until 12 months into the deceit that her lies unravelled after Mrs Murray's family checked out Higgins' medical background.
The news caused sales manager Mrs Murray to spiral into depression, which her family believes hastened her death a month later.
At Bournemouth Crown Court, Judge Donald Tait told of his frustration that he was unable to send Higgins to jail because the maximum sentence for a charge of impersonating a doctor was a fine.
He said: "The most serious offence you face is pretending to be medically qualified. If that was an offence that carried a custodial sentence I would be sending you to prison without batting an eyelid."
After seeing Higgins walk free with a criminal behavior order that bans her from acting as a medic again, Mrs Murray's brother Dave Drummond described her as "evil personified".
Mr Drummond, a 60-year-old oil refinery worker, said: "I honestly believe Julie Higgins brought Angela's life to an end prematurely.
"We all got suckered into it. I thought it was too good to be true, but we didn't want to give up hope. She had built Angela's hopes up so much and basically said 'I'm the only person who can give you the lungs'.
"When we found out she was a fraud, Angela's health deteriorated almost immediately. It was maybe three or four weeks later she died.
"Julie Higgins is evil personified and she is free to walk the streets. We understand the judge's position, he went as far as he could, but the law is inadequate."
Mrs Murray's husband Gregory, 59, said: "She has got away with it scot-free. I'm devastated and I worry she can just do it to someone else now."
The court heard Higgins spent 11 years pretending to be an oncology surgeon to her regular hairdresser in her home town of Poole, Dorset. Her lies led her into giving the hair salon's customers medical advice and assistance.
In 2015, hairdresser Jacqueline Elvin asked Higgins if she could help with fellow client Mrs Murray. Over a period of 12 months, the fantasist met Mrs Murray twice and sent her numerous text messages claiming she was going to save her.
You created false hope in somebody who was seriously unwell... you gained pleasure from pretending to be medically qualified
Judge Donald Tait
Higgins pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud which related to £80 worth of free haircuts she received from Mrs Elvin by way of thanks for trying to help Mrs Murray, from Swanage, Dorset.
She also admitted a charge of impersonating a doctor. The court heard there was no financial motive behind her deceit.
Judge Tait handed her the criminal behaviour order, a 12-month community order and 200 hours' community service. He told her: "The misery and anguish you inflicted on the Murray family was quite appalling.
"You created false hope in somebody who was seriously unwell. This was quite deliberate, you gained pleasure from pretending to be medically qualified.
"The most serious offence you face is pretending to be medically qualified. If that was an offence that carried a custodial sentence I would be sending you to prison without batting an eyelid.
"But it doesn't and if I were to send you to prison for obtaining £60-80 worth of haircuts that would be a dishonest way of approaching this sentencing. I consider my hands tied, I wish I could do otherwise."
Berenice Mulvanny, mitigating, said Higgins had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.
She said: "She does accept that the behaviour is unpalatable. She caused pain and suffering to Mrs Murray's family. Miss Higgins is not enjoying the misery that was inflicted. There was no financial or personal gain to her behaviour.
"It wasn't done maliciously, she didn't seek out Mrs Murray as a vulnerable person. If anything her behaviour is just clear evidence of someone who's incredibly mentally unwell."