By David Raleigh
A court has heard how when gardaí arrived at a house in Limerick to execute a warrant for an Irish man, wanted in England for importing drugs worth over €1.4m they found him at his kitchen table preparing a separate massive drugs consignment.
This story has been subject to apology : Apology Joe McKenna
The original version of this report on the appearance in court of Keith McKenna, with an address at Springfield, Dooradoyle, Co Limerick, on drugs charges, incorrectly stated that the Limerick businessman and All-Ireland winning hurler Joe McKenna was an uncle of the accused.
The report also incorrectly stated that Joe McKenna was in court to support the accused.
In fact, Joe McKenna was not in court on the day in question and is not related in any way to Keith McKenna.
Joe McKenna has had a major involvement in the development of Limerick hurling for many years and would never condone any illegal drug activity.
We apologise unreservedly to Joe McKenna for these errors and have made a donation to Milford Hospice on his behalf.
Keith McKenna, 45, had been "on the run" from the UK authorities, when gardaií called to his house at Springfield, Dooradoyle, on March 4, 2009.
Moments before detectives arrived at the house with a European Arrest Warrant to detain and transition him back to the UK, after he had previously absconded during his trial for importing cannabis, McKenna had dug up a sports bag containing over €100,000 which he had buried in his back garden.
Detective Damian Kennedy, of the Limerick Divisional Drugs Unit, found McKenna cutting the cannabis into bars in preparation for "a buyer he had secured".
“There were 56 (cannabis) bars,” Det Kennedy told Limerick Circuit Court at McKenna’s sentencing hearing on Thursday.
“The drugs were wrapped in clear plastic see-through tape and silver tape. There were traces of soil on the sports bag,” he added.
McKenna, with an address at Springfield, Dooradoyle, immediately admitted the drugs were his, and told the garda: “Yeah, its mine. It’s hash.”
McKenna, who works as a truck driver, explained he had travelled to a pre-arranged location in Tipperary the previous night to collect the drugs, before he returned home to bury the haul in his garden.
Gardai also found €650 in cash in the sports bag; two mobile phones; and a fake ID in the name of “Liam Mullin”, all of which McKenna said he had sourced from a Turkish man, the court heard.
“At the time, he was essentially on the run from the English authorities,” said John O’Sullivan, SC, prosecuting.
McKenna was swiftly extradited back to England, having previously absconded on the second day of his trial for drug importation, in 2006, at Canterbury Crown Court.
McKenna was subsequently jailed for seven years after pleading guilty to importing 380kg of cannabis; 100g of amphetamines; and six grams of cocaine, into England, at Dover, on May 14th, 2005.
After he was “released on licence” he was repatriated to Limerick on foot of a European Arrest Warrant, charged with possessing the cannabis resin bars and granted bail.
McKenna told gardai that he thought driving truck in and out of mainland Europe would be an easy way to import drugs and make money fast.
He said he did it at the start to try to help a former family friend who had got into financial difficulty.
Barrister Anthony Sammon, defending, said McKenna had made “very foolish decisions”.
“He is 45 now and his life has been dominated by this. His is a life that is screaming to become free from this awful business,” he said, as he appealed for leniency on behalf of the defendant.
McKenna, who is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, told gardai he was “sorry”, and that he has "wrecked" his own life.
Mr Sammon said McKenna started importing drugs to provide financial assistance to a previously close associate, who the court heard, was “in a situation of indebtedness”.
However, the barrister added: “I have to acknowledge (McKenna) did cast a cold eye on making a profit.”
McKenna is currently driving for a fruit distribution company, the court heard.
A reference letter provided to the court on behalf of the owner described McKenna as “a real asset”, and that the employer was “keeping the job open” for him.
The defendant was supported in court by family members.
Mr Sammon concluded, he “has made a series of blunders in his life, but he still has time to get his life back on the road”.
Judge Tom O’Donnell said McKenna had pleaded guilty to a "very serious matter". He remanded him on continuing bail for sentence in July.