A father-of-three who was caught with two kilos of cannabis in vacuum-packed bags was jailed yesterday despite a request not to send him to prison in the current pandemic.
A defence barrister acting on behalf of Qiujin Lin revealed the defendant had a serious health condition and asked that his client be spared jail in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.
While Judge Stephen Fowler QC noted these concerns, he told Belfast Crown Court that given the seriousness of the offence and Lin's role in the drugs enterprise, the custody threshold had been passed.
Lin (48), from Broad Street in Magherafelt, was handed a 15-month sentence for possessing class B drugs with intent to supply, which will be divided equally between custody and licence.
The Chinese national made the request for his case to be dealt with during the current medical emergency, and physically appeared in court yesterday.
On June 7 last year he was stopped driving a Honda on Belfast's Northumberland Street. He provided a UK driving licence with an English address, and when police spoke to him they noticed a strong smell of cannabis through the window.
The vehicle was searched and two kilos of cannabis in vacuum-packed bags was located, along with three mobile phone sim cards. Lin was arrested and when interviewed he gave a "no comment" response.
During sentencing Judge Fowler said that while Lin has since made the case that he was put under pressure to offend, this was not the view of the police or the Crown, who believe he was trusted to handle the drugs without supervision.
After receiving submissions from the Crown and defence, Judge Fowler said it was clear that Lin had been living and working in the UK for 18 years and has no previous convictions.
He said Lin had a good working record and had expressed a wish to set up a restaurant in the Mid Ulster area.
Defence lawyer Richard McConkey highlighted his client's ill health and said he suffered from severe stomach ulcers. Pointing out that "under normal circumstances it can be difficult for the Prison Service to deal with medical difficulties", Mr McConkey said the added presence of Covid-19 presented further concerns of risk of infection.
Urging Judge Fowler not to send Lin to jail, Mr McConkey said: "Mr Lin did spend some time in custody prior to being admitted to bail - 138 days in total - so to send him back to prison given the current situation is not necessary given the circumstances."
Judge Fowler noted Lin's ill health and concerns about prison staff's ability to manage his condition, particularly in light of the pandemic. Also noted by the judge was the Probation Board's assessment that there was a low likelihood Lin would reoffend, and that he had "learned a salutary lesson".
Judge Fowler cited the amount of cannabis Lin had as "significant" and said: "In this case, I determine the defendant was more than a courier, but his involvement in the overall organisation appears to be relatively modest."
Lin was given a reduction in his sentence for his guilty plea in the current medical situation, which the judge said showed remorse and a willingness to work with the authorities. Judge Fowler also ordered that the cannabis be destroyed.