updated 2/27/2009 6:01:26 PM ET 2009-02-27T23:01:26

British authorities hunted Friday for a fugitive whose treatment for a thyroid problem has made him radioactive.

Thomas Marius Leopold, 42, failed to appear for a hearing Thursday at London's Southwark Crown Court on child pornography charges. His defense lawyer Jeannie Mackay told the court her client's treatment made him radioactive, a warning the judge passed on to police officers.

"Please warn officers that when he is arrested he might be radioactive," Judge John Price said. "This is not a joke."

The nature of Leopold's illness wasn't immediately clear.

Mike Keir, a radiation protection adviser at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, in northern England, said Friday that that the description given by the court would fit with a person being treated with radioactive iodine for an overactive thyroid.

He said the treatment was fairly routine for such problems and that people in casual contact with the patient were not at risk. People being treated with radioactive iodine are typically advised to sleep alone and keep friends, family and co-workers at arm's length, Keir said.

"You'd have to spend a lot of time in close contact to have any significant effect," he said.

Keir said the risk to the public and police was minimal.

"The only thing I would suggest is that they wouldn't have an officer handcuffed to him," Keir said.

Leopold is charged with five counts of child pornography. He was arrested in July 2006 and was due to go to trial in October of that year, but his poor health has forced the trial to be postponed.

Mackay said Leopold had again claimed poor health as the reason for failing to show up in court, adding that he had left the country for Ireland.

But Price said Leopold was "doing everything to make it as difficult as he can to let the trial go ahead" and issued a warrant for Leopold's arrest.

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