A Dublin “drug baron” has been jailed for 18 years for transporting €6.2 worth of heroin in his van.
Michael Byrne (aged 36), of Old Tower, Clondalkin, was found guilty by a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court of possessing 32 kilograms of heroin in the Culmore Road area of Palmerstown on January 15, 2008 following a six-day trial last month.
Judge Frank O’Donnell described the father-of-five as a “drug baron” who was “no small fry in the (drugs) industry”.
He said Byrne gave a “calculated and well-rehearsed performance” in the witness box during his trial, shedding tears while claiming that, as a father, he understood the ill effects of drugs on young people.
Judge O’Donnell said Byrne feigned concern for his children and described it as “a performance Laurence Olivier would have been proud of” but that it was perhaps “a tear too far” for the jury.
He said Byrne fought and contested every issue in his case as every accused is entitled to do but this left little room for sympathy.
Judge O’Donnell said the sympathy he felt for Byrne’s family was tempered with the sympathy he had for the victims of drug abuse, for the mothers standing at the back of court “craning their necks” to see what sentence their drug-addicted son will get.
He said these “sons” may be as young as Byrne’s daughter and the elderly people they beat to “a pulp” to get money for drugs may be as old as Byrne’s parents.
He said there were no special circumstances in the case to exempt Byrne from the 10 years mandatory minimum sentence.
He said the fact the offence happened on the day of his brother’s funeral and the next day suggested Byrne took a “business as usual approach” to his activities.
The judge noted that the one positive element in Byrne’s case was that his counsel didn’t attempt to “ameliorate” his position after conviction.
Judge O’Donnell complimented the gardaí on their work in the case and said he was going to “send out a message” with the 18-year sentence.
Detective Garda Gregory Sheehan told prosecuting counsel, Mr Sean Gillane SC, that gardaí in possession of confidential information mounted a surveillance operation on Byrne’s home address as well as on the movements of a Volkswagen Caddy van belonging to Byrne and a Freelander Jeep.
He said the jeep was observed leaving Byrne’s home with him, his wife and child inside. They drove to the Culmore road area where it linked up with the van driven by an unknown male. This male got into the jeep and the group drove to the airport where the male got out and headed for the departures area.
The jeep drove to Ballyfermot and stopped at Byrne’s family home before driving back to Byrne’s house in Clondalkin. The jeep left again that evening and drove to the Culmore road area where it drove into a cul de sac, did a u-turn and Byrne got out of the jeep.
Byrne got out of the jeep and into the van and drove a circular lap of the estate before stopping outside a certain address. He went to the rear of the van and started taking out packages and putting them in a plastic bag.
He closed the door of the Caddy van and began to walk down a lane way. A detective drove his car up the laneway past Byrne and Det Gda Sheehan identified himself as an armed garda and told him to stop.
Byrne dropped the bags, making some of the packages fall out before running. The detective drew his firearm and gave chase down the laneway and into a park. He was found shortly afterwards hiding in a wooded area nearby and arrested.
Det Gda Sheehan said €640 in cash was found on him as well as two plastic bags. A search of the area yielded a large number of packages in the park and in the van with a total value of €6.2m.
Byrne maintained that he had been approached by a man who had asked to borrow his van and he had got a call to say it could be collected. He said he met a man he did not know and agreed to give him a lift to the airport.
He said he later returned to the area to collect his van and as he drove it he heard a banging in the back. He claimed this was the first time he saw the drugs in the van.
Byrne told gardaí he was attempting to get rid of the drugs when he was intercepted by gardaí. He said he was leaving them in an area where the person who owned them could collect them.
Det Gda Sheehan said gardaí did not accept this version of events.
Byrne has 19 previous convictions including assaulting gardaí, larceny and handling stolen property.
Mr Peter Finlay SC, defending, had handed in letters of reference into the court at the sentence hearing and said he had little else to add.