Seven years for former truck driver acting as gang 'store man'

A debt-ridden truck driver who ended up storing a shotgun and cocaine valued at over a €250,000 for several months after taking a loan from a criminal gang has been given a seven-year sentence.

Peter Rochford (aged 34) had begged his cousin to take the items for one night but "came clean" when he heard his cousin had been arrested after gardaí swooped on his home that night and found the drugs and firearms.

Rochford, of Dromore Road, Drimnagh, had believed a criminal gang member was a "knight in shining armour" after he loaned him money to pay his bills when he lost his job but soon found there was a hidden agenda.

Rochford also told Judge Patricia Ryan that his life had been "turned upside down this year" when his "best friend" was shot in front of him in February as they drank in a pub.

Rochford pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of cocaine for sale or supply at St Anne's, Kimmage Road West on October 19, 2007. He had no previous convictions at the time.

His cousin Michael Rochford (aged 28) of William Place, Clanbrassil Street, was given a three-year suspended sentence last February after pleading guilty to permitting the unlawful sale, supply or distribution of drugs at his then home. He also had no previous convictions and had never come to garda attention.

Judge Ryan said Peter Rochford had become "entangled" with the gang through a childhood friend who he later witnessed being shot dead. She noted he had taken full responsibility for his cousin's role in the offence.

She imposed a seven-year sentence but suspended the final two years on strict conditions.

A member of the Garda National Drugs Unit told Ms Monika Leech BL, prosecuting, that on foot of confidential information gardaí set up a surveillance operation at Peter Rochford's Drimnagh home and at the then home of his cousin Michael at Kimmage Road West .

Gardaí conducted a search at Michael's home and found a briefcase containing four kilograms of cocaine with a street value of €280,000 and a holdall bag containing a double-barrelled shotgun and cartridges.

Michael told gardaí his cousin Peter had rang him the previous evening and asked him to mind the bags for the night. He said he did not know what was in the bags and did not have the code for the briefcase.

Peter Rochford was arrested later that night and he told garda Michael had nothing to do with the items and had not wanted to mind them but relented after he had begged him for help.

Witness agreed with Mr Blaise O'Carroll SC, defending, that Peter Rochford had become entangled with a wider organised crime group through an association with a member of that group and could be categorised as a "store man and distributor" acting on the orders of some higher up the ladder.

He agreed that Rochford had learned the code to the briefcase only a week before and had delivered some of its contents to a designated location on orders.

He agreed that Rochford had a "reasonable basis" to be apprehensive about his safety.

Peter Rochford told Judge Ryan that he had been let go from his job as a truck driver in May 2005 and had fallen into serious financial difficulties as he had invested in a truck which he was forced to sell at a huge loss.

He said he could not settle his tax bill the following October and had to cash in his SSIA early to pay part of it.

He said a minor problem he had with alcohol turned into "major problem" at this time and his drug use "snowballed" but that he was now clean of drugs for two years.

Rochford said he was not in a criminal gang but had a friend who introduced him to a gang member who was able to loan him €3,000 to pay the rest of his tax bill. He said he had been told if he did not pay it the sheriff would come to his home to remove items.

He said he believed the man was "a knight in shining armour" and did not believe he had a hidden agenda. However he was later threatened and told to mind the bags and deliver drugs to wipe €400 off the debt. He said he "nearly died" when he saw what was inside the briefcase.

Rochford said he received a call from his wife the afternoon before his arrest saying one of his children was ill and had to go to hospital. He said as soon as he heard his cousin had been arrested he "came clean" but would not name the people he was working for due to fears for his family's safety.

He said his name had been "ruined" due to the publicity around this case and it had a "bad effect" on the rest of his family also. He said he would never re-offend and wished to apologise for all the trouble he had caused.

Mr O'Carroll said Rochford had come from a "dysfunctional background" but had worked diligently to make a success of his life until the loss of his job, the knock-on effects of which triggered a "fundamental transformation."

He said Rochford was not a "hardened criminal but someone who was vulnerable" and was "to all intents and purposes law-abiding."

Mr O'Carroll said Rochford had suffered psychological effects following the shooting in February. He said the gun had been pointed at his client also and were it not for this quick reflexes he could have been killed like his friend who was shot five times.

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