A Co Antrim fraudster has been jailed for his role in securing a fake passport for an illegal immigrant.
Owen Gardner, 36, was sentenced to 15 months after being found guilty of assisting unlawful immigration into the UK. Belfast Crown Court heard that the father of one, from Dillons Grange in Newtownabbey, already has a long criminal record with previous convictions for offences including fraud, theft, burglary, robbery and aggravated assault.
Judge Corinne Philpott QC noted that the former soldier had also changed his name by deed poll on three occasions, now having finally reverted back to his given name. She said Gardner, currently unemployed, had committed a very serious offence which was motivated solely by financial gain.
"People who help (illegal) immigrants are preying on people's desperation," she said, before passing sentence. "And that is something that courts do not look upon lightly."
In May 2010, a spot check at a Royal Mail sorting office in London discovered a package containing two fake Spanish passports. The parcel had been sent from Nigeria and was addressed to a house in Ainsworth Parade in Belfast that was rented to Gardner.
The package was addressed to another man - Tibercio Oyenga - and the same man's name appeared in both passports contained inside, though they incorporated photographs of two different men.
During a follow-up search of the Ainsworth Parade property, a briefcase containing £3,960 in cash and a passport photograph of one of the two men pictured in the forged documents was seized. A further search of Gardner's partner's home found a laptop that had the same photo saved on file.
At a jury trial last month, the defendant was found guilty of giving accommodation to an illegal immigrant and providing false documents. In pleading mitigation, Gardner's lawyer Taylor Campbell claimed the offence was near the bottom end of the scale of seriousness. He said as police had found no evidence of any other passport forgery bids, the case was a one-off.
The lawyer explained that Gardner had changed and now fulfilled an important role caring for his partner, who he said suffers blackouts brought on by a suspected cyst on her brain. Mr Campbell said Gardner's current girlfriend was also due to give birth in January.
Judge Philpott acknowledged his family circumstances and said she would reduce her intended sentence of 18 months to 15. The judge said half the sentence would be spent in custody, with the other half on licence.