Drug sniffer dog praised by judge
Repeat smuggler operated 'off the radar'
THE role played by a black Labrador in a drugs swoop at Shannon Airport last August has been praised by a circuit court judge.
At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Donagh McDonagh praised the role played by seven-year-old customs sniffer dog Shadow in detecting cannabis that was contained in a black sports bag on a Ryanair flight from Malaga.
The court heard that prior to Shadow identifying the drugs, Martin Birtwistle (53) had managed to evade garda and customs officials in smuggling drugs on four previous occasions at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports during the previous 12 months.
UK national Birtwistle pleaded guilty to the importation of drugs on August 15 last at Shannon Airport. He had no previous convictions.
In sentencing Birtwistle to a three-year jail term and suspending the sentence, Judge McDonagh said: "Credit on all fronts to customs, starting with Shadow and credit to the gardai."
Counsel for the State, Stephen Coughlan, said on August 15 that "Shadow become concerned about a black sports bag" on board the flight from Malaga.
A search of the bag found cannabis with a street value of €10,862 and Birtwistle was arrested.
During an interview with gardai, Birwistle confirmed he was en route to friends living near Dunmanway, Co Cork, and had smuggled drugs into Ireland on four previous occasions in the 12 months prior to being arrested.
The accused told gardai he purchased 1kg on cannabis on credit in Spain where he lived for €2,500 and was looking to sell it in west Cork for €5,000.
Judge McDonagh noted that Birtwistle managed to operate "not under the radar, but off the radar completely".
Counsel for Mr Birtwistle, Pat Whyms, said his client was very well-educated and is a telecommunications engineer, but has not worked as an engineer for a number of years.
Mr Whyms said Birtwistle lived in a hippie commune near Granada in Spain and was living on €50 a week by playing music and doing some DJing.
He added that his client "gave in to temptation in an act of economic desperation by bringing the drugs into Ireland".
Birtwistle told the court he had only €6 in his bank account.
Judge McDonagh imposed a prison sentence of three years dating back to Birtwistle's arrest in August.
The judge said: "We don't need Mr Birtwistle is this country."
He said he would suspend the three-year jail term on condition that Birtwistle give an undertaking that he would not return to Ireland for 10 years.