herald

Thursday 24 August 2017

Judge 'will not be influenced' by TD in drugs case

THE political furore surrounding a letter written by Fianna Fail's justice spokesperson on behalf of a convicted drug dealer will not influence what happens in the case, a judge has said.

Earlier this year, Niall Collins came under fire for writing a letter urging leniency for widowed father-of-four Hugo Porter who admitted having nearly €18,000 worth of cannabis for sale or supply in June 2011.

glassing

The 40-year-old, with an address at St Patrick Villas, Castleconnell, Co Limerick, also faces the possibility of having to serve a two-year prison sentence which was suspended in 2009 after he pleaded guilty to a "glassing" offence in Co Clare

Yesterday at Limerick Circuit Court, defence counsel Michael Collins said the handwritten letter by Mr Collins, which was never read out in court, had become the subject of a "media circus" and was used for political point-scoring.

Mr Collins' letter was submitted as mitigation at a sentencing hearing last June.

Local peace commissioner Frank Ryan also asked Judge Carroll Moran not to jail Porter on "humanitarian grounds" as he is the sole carer of his four young children following the death of his wife in tragic circumstances earlier this year.

Counsel Mr Collins said his client had to "spirit away" his children from the media spotlight, such was the furore that followed his last court appearance.

"There was certain shrill comment taken from a letter which seemed to suggest that this was an attempt to pervert the course of justice - that is far from the truth," Mr Collins said.

He told the court that certain sections of the media were camped on his client's doorstep when he returned from court and he was forced to gain access to his home through the rear.

Criticising the coverage which he expected from the "red tops", Mr Collins said the story also attracted extensive page one coverage in the broadsheet press.

Judge Carroll Moran said he was aware of what Mr Collins was talking about but insisted it has "no bearing on what happens in this case".

Counsel for the State John O'Sullivan said the letter was submitted in evidence in a criminal trial and therefore it became a public document in a public trial.

Mr O'Sullivan also told the court that there was a Section 99 matter that had to be considered into the activation of a two-year suspended sentence from a Clare case, but the file was not present in court.

compassion

Mr Collins asked Judge Moran not to impose a custodial sentence, based on compassion, as this would cause great instability in the family.

He referred to a ruling in the Court of Criminal Appeal earlier this year when it was said that in exceptional circumstances it was appropriate to suspend a sentence in its entirety in the interest of justice.

Mr Collins said the circumstances in Mr Porter's case were "wholly exceptional" given the impact that a custodial sentence would have on his family.

Sentencing was adjourned until next Thursday.

hnews@herald.ie

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