A Co Armagh mother caught with up to £60,000 worth of cannabis narrowly avoided going to prison on Tuesday.
Imposing a two-year jail sentence on Lurgan woman Nichaela Maxwell, Judge Patrick Lynch KC warned that, while the custody threshold “is clearly passed”, he was suspending the sentence for three years because of Maxwell’s severely disabled daughter.
The judge heard how Maxwell’s eight-year-old child cannot walk or talk, needs help with feeding and requires around-the-clock care, much of which Maxwell has received medical training for.
Judge Lynch told Craigavon Crown Court he was satisfied there were exceptional circumstances which allowed him to depart from the guidelines.
At an earlier hearing, Maxwell (26), from Toberhewny Lodge, entered a guilty plea to being knowingly concerned in the importation of cannabis between April 27 and May 1, 2021.
Opening the facts of the case, prosecuting counsel Joseph Murphy outlined how Royal Mail at East Midlands Airport intercepted a package addressed to Maxwell.
That package, due to be delivered to the defendant’s address, was found to contain just under a kilo of herbal cannabis.
When the PSNI searched Maxwell’s home the following September, officers uncovered further packages of shrink-wrapped herbal cannabis.
Mr Murphy said that, in total, police found 10.6 kilos of the Class B drug.
He added that a police drug expert estimated that, wholesale, the haul was worth between £40,000 and £60,000.
Arrested and interviewed, Maxwell initially denied knowing anything about the drugs but later admitted her guilt.
Mr Murphy told the court that, on the police and Public Prosecution Service assessment, given the weight and wreath of the drugs, Maxwell’s role had been that of a “trusted custodian”.
He conceded that the prosecution could contradict defence submissions that there were elements of “pressure and coercion” for Maxwell to be involved or that she “did not know the scale of the operation” in which she was involved.
Defence counsel Peter Canavan highlighted that Maxwell had entered guilty pleas, had no previous convictions for drugs, and that there was medical evidence that, if she were to be jailed, her absence “would have a life-changing impact on her daughter”.
Imposing the suspended sentence, Judge Lynch told Maxwell, “It’s a very serious matter,” and warned her not to reoffend or she would have to serve the two years in jail”.