A truck driver who avoided a jail term after being caught "red-handed" transporting drugs worth an estimated €900,000 has been jailed for four years after the Court of Appeal ruled that his original non-custodial sentence was unduly lenient.
Ciaran Lawn (43), of Derrykillew, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, was given a three-year wholly suspended sentence after pleading guilty to possession of a controlled substance for sale or supply contrary to Section 15a of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 on December 15th, 2019 at Drumgoolestown, near Ardee, Co Louth.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) later appealed the sentence handed down by Judge Mary O’Malley-Costello at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court in July last year.
After a second hearing before the Court of Appeal in March, Lawn was taken into custody pending sentencing after the three-judge court agreed with the DPP and quashed the original sentence.
In a judgement delivered by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on Tuesday, Lawn was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment with three years suspended.
Mr Justice McCarthy said that prior to the respondent’s arrest in 2019, gardaí had been informed that a consignment of drugs had been concealed inside a cattle transporter arriving in this country from Europe.
Officers later observed Lawn standing at the back of the vehicle after he had parked it at the side of the N33 in Co Louth as a van arrived and stopped alongside.
“The respondent was observed handing over a large bag to the van driver, who then drove away,” the judge added.
Gardaí later recovered a number of vacuum-sealed packages containing €840,000 worth of cannabis and €59,000 of cocaine from the van.
Mr Justice McCarthy, who was sitting with court president Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said an appropriate headline sentence for the offence would be “not less than 10 years”.
Noting that the respondent “did not seek to remain at liberty” after his original sentence had been quashed, the judge reduced the new term by three years before suspending the final three years.
Earlier, Fiona Murphy SC, for Lawn, told the court her client had since lost his job as a truck driver as a result of the conviction.
Pointing to the fact he was not present in court when the suspended sentence had been quashed at a first hearing in March, she added: “It does say something about him that he [subsequently] came to court to be remanded in custody when the court had already made its determination.”
At the March 21st hearing, Kevin Segrave BL, for the DPP, said that wholly suspended sentences were only handed down when there were “special reasons of a substantial nature and wholly exceptional circumstances”.
“There was nothing in this case of an exceptional nature,” Mr Segrave said, adding that as a starting point, a three-year custodial term for the offence Lawn had been convicted of could be considered “somewhat light”.
Lawn, counsel continued, had previous convictions for “significant” road traffic offences, had been caught “red-handed” with the drugs, and had failed to co-operate with gardai after his arrest.
In response, Ms Murphy said her client’s previous convictions occurred almost 10 years before his arrest on drugs charges.
She said her client suffered from “serious” mental health issues, and it seemed “there were significant issues at play” at the time of the offending, which the judge correctly considered prior to sentencing.
The defence barrister said that while there could be no dispute over the high value of the drugs seized by gardaí, she said her client was only a courier in the operation and was living on social welfare at the time of his arrest.
“He wasn’t someone who had made serious gains as a result,” Ms Murphy said.