Man who brought cannabis into Maghaberry given community service

Maghaberry Prison
Maghaberry Prison

A 33-year-old north Belfast man who admitted bringing six grammes of cannabis resin into Maghaberry Prison has been freed after agreeing to carry out 80 hours community service.

Judge Patricia Smyth told Christopher O’Neill of Torrens Link that this would help provide structure and order which was partly lacking in his life and also enable him to complete work with the probation services.

Judge Smyth added it was clear O’Neill has mental health issues, and problems with cannabis, but that he was engaging well with probation and others, and it was the recommendation he be allowed to complete his probation which runs until the end of October.

O’Neill was acquitted last month by a Belfast Crown Court jury of the more serious charge of possessing the class B drug with intent to supply. He said that he forgot he had the wrap of cannabis in his pocket when he went to visit a friend in the jail on July 19, 2017, and had no intention of supplying it to him or anyone.

Prosecutor Mark Farrell had told the court that O’Neill was spotted on CCTV in the prison tuck shop buying a cup of coffee or tea before putting his hand into his back pocket. The action aroused the suspicion of prison staff and the cannabis, wrapped in cling film, was later found in the cup.

Mr Farrell said O’Neill later told police it was only when he went to put his change in his back pocket that he discovered the drug which he meant to leave in his car in the prison car park.

Defence counsel Sean Mullin said that O’Neill had been smoking cannabis before going into the jail to visit a friend, and later “panicked” when he felt more of the drug in his pocket after buying himself a cup of coffee. He then put it in the cup in an effort to discard the cannabis.

Mr Mullin added that O’Neill, who has mainly a record for motoring offences, but nothing for drugs, was an individual who would benefit greatly from continued support from the probation service.