Former Naval Service member jailed for two years for drug offences
Accused pleads guilty to possessing 14kg of cannabis
Colin Vernon (48) of North Gate Apartments in Cork pleaded guilty to possessing 14kg of cannabis with a street value of €168,000. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A former member of the Naval Service who ended up in East Africa advising ship owners on security measures against piracy has been jailed for two years after he pleaded guilty to possessing nearly €170,000 worth of drugs for sale or supply.
Colin Vernon (48), a native of Dundalk, Co Louth, but resident at the time at North Gate Apartments in Cork, pleaded guilty to possessing 14kg of cannabis with a street value of €168,000 at addresses at Firgrove in Bishopstown and Kinsale Road in Cork on November 4th, 2010.
Sgt Mick O’Halloran told Cork Circuit Criminal Court that gardaí mounted a surveillance operation on the day in question as a result of confidential information and observed Vernon pull up in a rented van and place a brown box in the back of a car in Firgrove in Bishopstown.
Gardaí apprehended both Vernon and the driver of the other car and found the box placed in the car contained four kilos of cannabis worth €48,000 while they found a similar size box of cannabis in the back of Vernon’s van with another four kilos and a further kilo of the drug in the front of his van.
Vernon told gardaí that he had left his own car parked outside the car rental premises where he had hired the van and when gardaí searched his car, they found another package containing another four kilos of cannabis, giving a total street value for the haul of €168,000.
Vernon was arrested and told gardaí that he had been offered €500 to drive to Athy the previous day to collect drugs but he never expected that there would be so many and he ended up collecting six or seven boxes which he had to deliver to various locations in Cork.
Vernon was released without charge and gardaí began preparing a file to the DPP but the following March he left the country and gardaí issued a European Arrest Warrant for him but he wasn’t apprehended until April this year when he was arrested by German police in Frankfurt.
He was brought back to Ireland on foot of the arrest warrant and has been in custody since then, said Sgt O’Halloran, who accepted that Vernon had co-operated with gardaí and entered a signed plea of guilty when he was first charged in May this year.
Defence counsel Tom Creed SC said his client had an exemplary record in the Irish Naval Service before leaving to set up his own business but he ran up a series of debts and naively accepted an offer of €500 to collect the drugs in Athy and bring them back to Cork.
Vernon wrote a letter, apologising to the court, gardaí and family and friends for his actions in 2010 and said he was deeply ashamed and remorseful for a serious error of judgment. He said he had various debts and was at a vulnerable time of his life when he decided to transport the drugs eight years ago.
Mr Creed said he had naively left Ireland thinking that he wasn’t going to be charged and had found work in East Africa advising shipping companies on security measures to avoid pirates to ship valuable food supplies to Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen where the United Nations had important missions.
Mr Creed asked Judge Brian O’Callaghan to take into account Vernon’s guilty plea, the fact that it was his first offence and the fact that the probation service believed he was at minimum risk of reoffending and he asked that he treat him as leniently as possible.
The judge said Vernon had shown great naivety in going abroad and it was a serious matter but he noted that his guilty plea was a serious mitigating factor and he sentenced him to three years in jail but suspended the final 12 months on condition he be of good behaviour upon his release.