An Englishman jailed for his role in the largest drugs seizure in the history of the State has had his 30-year jail term reduced on appeal to 17 and a half years.
Perry Wharrie, aged 56, from Loughton, in Essex, was given what his lawyers described as the “highest sentence in the history of the State” for drugs offences following the seizure of a record €440m haul which went awry at Dunlough Bay on the Mizen Peninsula, West Cork, on July 2, 2007.
Wharrie, who had pleaded not guilty to possession of the drugs for sale or supply, was unanimously found guilty by a jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on July 23, 2008.
Wharrie successfully appealed his sentence last July with the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal finding that the sentencing judge “fell into error”.
Giving judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said the main error was that the judge did not give credit for the fact that Wharrie, unlike his co-accused, refrained from giving false evidence in his trial.
Although that fact was noted by the judge, Wharrie did not get that mitigation because of his very serious criminal record, Mr Justice Hunt said.
In 1989, Wharrie, along with two other men, was convicted in connection with the shooting dead of off-duty police officer Frank Mason, 27, who had intervened during an armed robbery in England.
During a struggle, a single shot was fired by another party which killed Mr Mason.
Wharrie was given a life sentence for the officer’s murder and was freed on licence, otherwise known as parole, in 2005 having served 16 years.
Mr Justice Hunt said it appeared Wharrie may be required to engage again with the “still extant life sentence” in England when he is done serving time in Ireland and to deprive him of mitigation on that point was “double punishment”.
Furthermore, the judge said Wharrie’s presence in this jurisdiction was “accidental”. He had very little connection to Ireland and as such difficulties arose in serving the sentence here.
Mr Justice Hunt, who sat with Mr Justice John Mc-Menamin and Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, said the court considered 22 and a half years as the appropriate headline sentence and that Wharrie should be allowed a five-year discount for how well he was doing in prison.
The case began when a rigid inflatable boat carrying 1.5 tonnes of cocaine got into difficulties off the south-west coast. One of its petrol engines was filled with diesel, causing the craft to flounder and sink in unseasonably rough July seas.
The cocaine had been transferred to the rib from a catamaran named Lucky Day after a rendezvous 48km off the Cork coast.
Lifeboat crews who came to the aid of the sinking rib found one of Wharrie’s accomplices floating in the sea encircled by 65 bales of cocaine.
There was evidence at the trial that customs officials who went to Dunlough Bay came across Wharrie and another accomplice making their way up from the cliffs.
Both men were arrested two days later.
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