By Brion Hoban
A man was caught with €3.5 million worth of drugs in his van when gardaí stopped him for driving while using his mobile phone, a court heard.
James Manning, 49, with an address at Belclare Avenue, Ballymun, Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of 177kg of cannabis on December 1, 2017.
Judge Francis Comerford sentenced him to nine years imprisonment with the final three years suspended for a period of three years.
Garda Thomas Barrett told John Byrne BL, prosecuting, that a garda in Offaly became suspicious of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van parked outside a house and began following as it drove towards Dublin.
He contacted Lucan Garda Station who dispatched Gda Barrett to await the van's arrival on the N4.
When his car pulled up beside the van he noticed Manning was using his mobile phone and signalled for him to stop driving.
Upon searching the van 15 cardboard boxes were discovered containing a total of 177 kilogram bags of cannabis which had an approximate street value of €3.5 million.
Manning was arrested and has remained in custody since.
Manning has 29 previous convictions, including one for false imprisonment, one for possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and a conviction for dangerous driving causing death dealt with by the Children's Court in 1985.
Gda Barrett agreed with Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, defending, that Manning's previous offending was linked to “extreme alcohol abuse”.
Mr Ó Lideadha said that Manning had struggled with alcohol and had been homeless for periods of his life.
Manning stopped drinking in 2013 and had a job with IKEA at the time of his arrest.
He said that Manning had agreed to transport the cannabis in order to pay off a drug debt and that there was “no suggestion of being a captain or trusted footman”.
Judge Comerford said this was “a crime of utmost gravity with the very greatest consequences” and that without mitigation the appropriate sentence would have been 12 years imprisonment.
He said the mitigating circumstances in the case were Manning's early guilty plea, the “extreme vulnerabilty” of his life and his supportive family background.
A hearing regarding the forfeiture of the van will be held later this month.