A WOMAN who for years impersonated a surgeon gave false hope to a terminally-ill patient that she could get her a lung transplant.

For around a decade Julie Higgins, 54, told staff and customers at her regular hairdressers in Poole that she was a surgeon and oncology specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, despite never working there.

In reality, she was only a first aider.

Poole magistrates heard that in 2015 Higgins was introduced by her hairdresser to Angela Murray, who suffered from pulmonary hypertension and a very rare dry fibrosis of the lungs, similar in effect to cystic fibrosis.

"They met on two occasions and Ms Higgins obtained personal details including her NHS number, and said she would assist her in finding some new lungs," prosecutor Nicola Reece told the court last week.

"It was an ongoing relationship, mostly via text messages."

The court heard Higgins invented different characters when she sent messages to Mrs Murray, of Hill Road, Swanage, who died in October last year.

On "several occasions", the court heard, Higgins gave Mrs Murray "false hope" that lungs were available for her operation. As a scrubs nurse called 'Squiby' she contacted the patient telling her to go nil by mouth, but later that evening a text followed saying the lungs were "too badly damaged" although "Ju tried for hours to save them".

In her texts to Mrs Murray, Higgins described travelling around the world searching for donor organs, including a visit to Nice after the terrorist atrocity of July 14 last year.

She invented new characters promoting her aid work overseas, the court heard.

A later text claimed she was travelling with an aid convoy in Syria which came under attack.

"She claimed to be badly injured and even offered her lungs if she didn't make it," said Ms Reece.

It was during this time also that she was able to obtain free haircuts at the hairdressers in Swanage on the strength of her 'good work'.

By this point Mrs Murray's family had become suspicious of the increasingly outlandish claims, and in September 2016 they checked Higgins' credentials and discovered the fraud.

Higgins, of Spruce Close, Poole, admitted one count of fraud by false representation and another of impersonating a doctor.

She has a previous conviction for the latter offence from 2007, having tricked her patient out of £700 supposedly to fund an operation.

Mrs Murray's brother Dave Drummond said family and friends were "sucked in" by the deception.

"Even when it was at its most unbelievable, I didn't want to say to Angie 'I think she's a con-woman', it would have just taken all the hope away from her," he said.

"The lack of a transplant was going to kill Angie anyway, but I am totally convinced her death was due to this. It took away her will to live, she deteriorated so quickly.

"It wasn't done off the cuff. I am sure it was elaborately planned, she must have rehearsed it."

The court heard the magistrates' sentencing powers were deemed insufficient to deal with the offences, and Higgins was released on bail to attend Bournemouth Crown Court on March 24.

Fake doctor Julie Higgins: "When I am under stress or pressure, I dissociate"

FAKE doctor Julie Higgins said her deception of Angela Murray resulted from a recently diagnosed mental illness.

Approached by the Daily Echo two days after admitting the charges, Higgins said she had dissociative identity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder after being abused in her childhood.

She was diagnosed in February, days before she appeared in court, and has since been having counselling sessions.

"When I am under stress or pressure, I dissociate," she said.

"Sometimes I don't even remember what's happened. I found text messages on my phone to Angie that I have no memory of sending."

Wife Sue Hole, who has been in a relationship with Higgins for 21 years, said: "She said she'd been gang-raped in Syria.

"Those are not the actions of a mentally well person."

Higgins said she believed she had supported and helped Mrs Murray as she attempted to get treatment.

"I rang her twice a week to keep her going and support her," she said.

"She relied on me and said I was her 'sanity'. Her family were getting more and more desperate, and so was I.

"I was feeling the pressure of keeping her going.

"When I'm under pressure, and feeling vulnerable mentally, I tell lies compulsively and exaggerate who I am or what I do, even believing I'm someone else.

"This is due to my childhood abuse."

She said she felt "panic and shock" on receiving a text from Mrs Murray's husband on September 30 last year accusing her of being a fraud.

The following day, she says she admitted to her wife she was a "compulsive liar".

"I am doing everything I can to find out what is wrong with me and to put it right," she told the Echo.

"There are no words to express my grief, remorse and sorrow for the unintentional hurt and damage I have caused to the people around me due to my mental condition."

Since Higgins started counselling sessions, she says she has not dissociated.