Monday 23 October 2017

Mother avoids prison while partner is jailed for five years for €2m drug bust

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Sonya McLean and Fiona Ferguson

The mother of a three-year-old child has avoided a jail term for her role in €2 million drug bust last year while her partner was jailed for five years.

Tara Kennedy's child was with his father Graham O'Toole (24) when he handed over cocaine and heroin to another co-accused, Alan Dowling (46), at a meeting point in Dublin.

On Friday, Dowling also received a five year jail term for his role.

Gardaí had Dowling under surveillance when they saw him meet up with O'Toole in Ballyfermot before €854,000 worth of cocaine and heroin was handed over.

Dowling was stopped minutes later and told gardaí that there were drugs in the boot of his car. Gardaí discovered seven kilogrammes of cocaine and 2.2 kilogrammes of heroin.

A follow-up search of the home Kennedy (22) and O'Toole shared led to the discovery of €1,158,600 worth of cannabis herb, cocaine and heroin. The couple were in the kitchen with their son, along with three bin liners of cannabis herb, when gardaí raided the premises.

Dowling of Drumalee Park, North Circular Road and O'Toole of Ballyfermot Drive, Ballyfermot pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of drugs for sale or supply on October 10, 2015.

The court heard that Dowling was pleading guilty on the basis that he was taking responsibility for the drugs found in his boot valued at €854,000, while O'Toole was taking responsibility for the drugs found in his home valued at €1,158,600 million.

Kennedy, also of Ballyfermot Drive, pleaded guilty to allowing her home to be used for the sale, supply or distribution of the 17.37 kilogrammes of cannabis, valued at €347,400.

At a hearing earlier this month the court heard a probation report prepared on Kennedy had outlined that she was particularly distressed about what would happen to her son if both she and her partner, O'Toole, were jailed.

Judge Melanie Greally said Kennedy had a difficult and disruptive childhood and had a history of cannabis abuse which she was addressing. She also noted her lack of previous convictions, remorse and that she was a good mother to her child.

She imposed a four year sentence on Kennedy but in view of the exceptional circumstances relating to care of her child she suspended Kennedy's sentence in full.

Judge Greally noted O'Toole had experienced extreme neglect as a child and his start in life had put him at a significant disadvantage. She noted he was addressing his abuse of cocaine.

She imposed a nine year sentence on O'Toole but suspended the final four years. She rejected an application by defence counsel for O'Toole to allow him begin his sentence after spending Christmas with Kennedy and their child.

Judge Greally noted Dowling, a father of three, had difficulties with drugs over the course of his life but had expressed remorse for his actions and had support from his family. Judge Greally imposed a seven year sentence on Dowling and suspended the final two years.

At the original sentence hearing last July the court heard Dowling has 16 previous convictions for road traffic offences and Kennedy has no previous convictions.

O'Toole received a four year sentence with the final two years suspended in October 2012 after he pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary of his father's home.

Additional evidence

Detective Sergeant Gregory Sheehan told Noel Devitt BL, prosecuting, that gardaí followed O'Toole to the home he shared with his partner, Kennedy. There were concerns that a further quantity of drugs was in the van and the drugs would go missing if gardaí didn't move in.

A warrant was quickly secured and the house was searched. A total of four bags of cannabis herb were found along with a further two kilogrammes of cocaine and a kilogramme of heroin, worth a total €811,200.

Det Sgt Sheehan said O'Toole admitted during a garda interview that he had been asked to collect water pumps and remove cannabis from them. He said he was under financial pressure for Christmas.

Dowling told gardaí that he got a phone call to “meet a fella at 2pm in Ballyfermot”. He said he waited for the man and picked up the parcel.

He said he was disgusted when he saw the young boy in the van. He was to get €1,000 for his role which he was going to use to pay off a €4,000 drug debt.

Kennedy claimed she had nothing to do with the drugs and said she had been involved with the children but gardaí observed her taking the water pumps out of the back of the van at her home.

Det Sgt Sheehan agreed with Paul Greene SC, defending O'Toole, that his mother died when he was three-years-old and his older siblings, who were then 11 and 13-years-old, raised him. His father had a serious drink problem and wasn't in a position to look after the children.

O'Toole was taken into residential care as a young boy but they managed to get him back into the family on the basis that his father “had turned a corner”.

Counsel said “unfortunately this didn't work out” and Det Sgt Sheehan confirmed that O'Toole's one conviction for burglary arose out of a dispute with his father.

Det Sgt Sheehan also confirmed that O'Toole was “not on the garda radar” at the time of the offence.

He agreed with Mr Dwyer that a probation report before the court was positive and said he would be “hopeful” that he wouldn't be before the courts again.

Padraig Dwyer SC, defending Kennedy, said a probation report before the court outlined a troubled childhood and said Kennedy had spent a substantial part of her life in care.

The probation officer was satisfied that she was genuinely remorseful and was particularly distressed about what would happen to her son if both she and her partner were jailed.

Kennedy had since shown an insight into her offending behaviour and said she was conscious of the impact of drug abuse on the community. She claimed she didn't know the drugs were going to be in her home.

Mr Greene, defending O'Toole, said his client was from “an extensively disadvantaged background” and the probation report concluded that he was at a moderate risk of re-offending.

He had been attending a drug rehabilitation programme but although he had engaged with it, he had slipped back into drug use a number of times. O'Toole had also completed a course in fitness and other training programmes.

Bernard Condon SC, defending Dowling, submitted that his client co-operated with gardaí from the moment they arrived on the scene. He said it was accepted that his client was acting as a courier to get money to pay off a drug debt.

Counsel said he had expressed sorrow and shame for getting involved in the offence.

Dowling got married to his partner and mother of his three children last year after 20 years together.

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