By NIAMH McPHELIMY
Saturday March 13 1999
AN ENGLISHMAN who imported £5m worth of heroin on behalf of a major Dublin drugs organisation has been jailed for six years.Robert Russell and his former business partner, Gary Blake, had made nine or ten previous trips on behalf of the west Dublin gang since February 1998. They were both offered a fee of £2,500 and £500 expenses for the job.
Russell (33) of Glenhurst Cresent, Manchester and Blake of Copster Hill, Oldham, Manchester pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to importing 18.5kg of heroin on October 31, 1998.
Blake had his sentence adjourned to March 24 next to enable a psychological report to be prepared.
Detective Sergeant Gregory Sheehan told prosecuting counsel Fergal Foley BL that Russell was one of four people who came to Dun Laoghaire on the ferry with two hired Ford Mondeo cars. Gardai arrested them at the Royal Marine hotel and recovered 18.5kg of heroin with a street value of £5m.
The heroin was concealed in the lining of the rear-door panel of both cars. A total of 20 packets of heroin were found in one car and 18 in the other.
Russell and Blake were accompanied by their girlfriends, Joanna Schofield (30), of Glenhurst Cresent and Cheryl Hume (20), of Copster Place, Oldham, Manchester. The women have also pleaded guilty to the same charge and been remanded on bail for sentence on October 20 next.
Det Sgt Sheehan said the girlfriends were used as a form of camouflage during the operation and were aware something was going on but didn't understand the scale of the operation.
Both men had become involved in importing the heroin after getting into financial difficulties with a sandblasting business they had started in Manchester. Russell has three minor previous convictions.
Defence counsel Barry White SC (with Martina Baxter BL) asked Judge Catherine Dunne to consider that Russell had a difficult upbringing and his brothers had fallen by the wayside. He left school at an early age and since then had always done his best to keep employment in various jobs to help support his mother.
Mr White asked Judge Dunne to read testimonials submitted on behalf of Russell and his partner, Ms Schofield. He said Russell pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity and had met this case in a frank fashion. The court shouldn't leave him without hope and ``should leave him some light at the end of the tunnel'', by allowing him to return to England before his daughter was too old.
Mr White said a prison sentence for Russell would be more difficult for an Englishman as he would not be visited by his family. He was already in the separation unit of Mountjoy where there was no recreational facility.
Judge Dunne said the tragedy caused by drugs was unveiled daily in the courts, where most of the crime was caused by drugs. There was also the tragedy of so many destroyed and lost lives as a result of heroin. Russell became involved on his own admission to make money.
``The Russells of this world make it possible for the masters involved to survive and prosper and it would send out the wrong signal if the court didn't impose a long sentence,'' she said.
Judge Dunne noted Russell was working in prison to improve himself and a testimonial had also been received from the prison assistant governor. She would review the sentence in October 2001.
- NIAMH McPHELIMY