A man found floating in the ocean next to 65 bales of cocaine has had his 30-year prison sentence for one of the State’s largest ever drugs haul cut to 23 years by the Court of Appeal.
Englishman Martin Wanden, 58, with a last address in South Africa, had pleaded not guilty to his role in the €440m drugs haul which went awry at Dunlough Bay on the Mizen Peninsula, West Cork on July 2 2007.
The case began when a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) carrying 1.5 tonnes of cocaine got into difficulties. The cocaine had been transferred to the RIB from a Catamaran named “Lucky Day” after a rendezvous at a buoy about 30 miles off the Cork coast.
One of its petrol engines was mistakenly filled with diesel, causing the craft to flounder and sink in unseasonably rough July seas.
Wanden was found floating in the Atlantic Ocean encircled by 65 bales of cocaine, subsequently found to be 75 per cent pure, by life boat crews, who had come to the aid of the sinking RIB.
He was found guilty by a jury at Cork Circuit Criminal Court following a 42-day trial and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on July 23, 2008. His sentence, and those of his two codefendants, were among the longest sentences ever imposed for drugs offences in Ireland.
Wanden successfully appealed the severity of his sentence today on grounds that 30 years imprisonment was “crushing” and disproportionate. He was accordingly resentenced to 23 years imprisonment by the Court of Appeal.
Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice John Edwards said the sentencing judge did not nominate a headline sentence but it must have been “north of 30 years”. This had to be regarded as inappropriate and disproportionate, the judge said, adding that 27 years would have been an appropriate headline sentence.
This was reduced to 23 years to take account of the mitigating factors. Wanden’s wife had died tragically while he was awaiting trial. He was inevitably separated from his daughter as a result of being in prison and he was a foreigner required to serve his sentence in an Irish jail.
Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said Wanden was not at the apex of the criminal organisation but he was “majorly involved” at an operational level.
Moreover, he said it was not the first time Wanden had been involved in drug trafficking. He was convicted of smuggling drugs in France in 2005.
Mr Justice Edwards said the court had found "informative" an analysis of how a 30 year sentence compared with the average time spent in custody by people serving life sentences in Ireland in recent years.
He said a 30-year sentence, with standard 25% remission, equaled a life sentence in which the prisoner is released after 22 years.
Wanden, Perry Wharrie, 58, and Joe Daly, 51, were each found guilty following a trial. Wharrie was originally sentenced to 30 years imprisonment while Daly was given 25 years.
Wharrie’s sentence was reduced to 17-and-a-half years imprisonment by the Court of Criminal Appeal although the Supreme Court subsequently found, on a point of law, that the court was wrong to have done so. Daly’s 25-year sentence was upheld on appeal.
A fourth man, Gerard Hagan, 34, had pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine for sale or supply and was sentenced to 10 years on account of his guilty plea.
Moving to appeal the severity of his sentence in March, Wanden’s barrister, Brian McCartney SC, said his client’s 30-year sentence was “crushing”.
He said Wanden’s role was that of a “bungling stevedore” rather than a “lieutenant”. Wanden was not the organiser, planner or financier and displayed no trappings of wealth, counsel submitted.