Belfast Telegraph

Drugs smuggler who transported cannabis worth £800k in to Northern Ireland fails in seven-year prison term challenge

By Alan Erwin

A one-time international drugs smuggler with a lavish lifestyle who transported £800,000 worth of cannabis into Northern Ireland failed today in a challenge to his seven-year prison term.

Rejecting claims that the sentence imposed on Mark McPhillips was excessive, judges in the Court of Appeal said he had been lucky to get a 25% reduction for pleading guilty.

The 35-year-old was caught with 40kg of herbal cannabis in a van stopped by police on the Glengalliagh Road, Derry in May 2012.

The drugs, found hidden inside kitchen cupboards in the rear of the vehicle, had been smuggled across the Irish border.

A sender's address in Amsterdam and a delivery address in Co Roscommon were attached to the packaging.

McPhillips, formerly of Elmvale in the Culmore area of the city, admitted nine charges linked to the seizure.

They included having herbal cannabis with intent to supply and possession of Class A MDMA found inside the engine compartment of his BMW X5 jeep.

He further pleaded guilty to possessing criminal property by putting down deposits of £14,000 and £10,000 to buy two houses in Derry

McPhillips also admitted converting criminal property by paying 25,000 euros for the BMW, and transferring criminal property in the form of £76,000 in unexplained lodgements into his bank account.

But the trial judge had found he was still withholding information about his activities from police.

McPhillips claimed he had agreed to collect the drugs from a contact near Sligo town because he was £40,000 in debt to other people, whom he refused to name.

However, his involvement in the illicit trade was held to be much deeper.

Recent trips to Holland and Spain, and his payment of no tax in Northern Ireland since 2006 were said to point to a more significant role. 

The sentence imposed at Derry Crown Court last November was split between three and a half years in custody and the same period on licence.

McPhillips lawyers challenged it by contending that had been too heavy and gave insufficient credit for the guilty pleas.

But Mr Justice Maguire, who heard the appeal with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Gillen, stressed the need for deterrent sentences in such cases.

He said: "The importation of drugs, especially done for gain, ought to be very severely punished, especially if it is on a large scale."

Ruling that the proper starting point had been taken in the sentencing process, he dismissed all grounds of appeal.

Mr Justice Maguire confirmed: "The applicant should count himself as fortunate to have obtained the 25% discount which the judge afforded him."

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