A former professional footballer from Derry has been given a 10 month sentence suspended for two years at the city’s Crown Court for drugs and motoring offences
John Owen Morrison, whose address was given on Court papers as Norburgh Park in Derry had pleaded guilty to a series of offences including the possession with respect to the importation or exportation of drugs, namely cocaine and taking and driving a vehicle without the knowledge of the owner and having no insurance for the vehicle.
He was also disqualified from driving for a period of 18 months.
Mr Morrison previously had a career as a professional footballer in the English Premiership playing for both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday as well as two stints with Derry City FC.
The Court heard that the charges related to an incident at approximately 7.35pm on February 20, 2015. The PSNI were operating a checkpoint at Springtown Road in the city when they observed a vehicle approaching. The car then turned off into a nearby housing estate. Police said they believed the driver of the car was a resident of the area. However, a short while later they say a male dressed in dark clothing emerge from the residential and look around before going back in. This aroused suspicion from the PSNI in the area and a short time later they saw the driver attempting to manoeuvre the vehicle in question in a cul-de-sac in the housing estate.
On speaking to the driver, he identified himself as the accused. Morrison admitted to police at the scene that he had no licence or insurance for the vehicle and that it in fact belonged to his partner. The defendant then accompanied the police officers to their vehicle and upon searching him they discovered two wraps of white powder which was suspected to be cocaine which he had hidden in his sock.
Morrison was then arrested by the police for the offences and taken to a local police station for questioning. It was under questioning that the defendant admitted possession of the Class A substance and told police he believed it was cocaine. He further claimed that one wrap of the drugs was for his own use and the other was for friends and that they intended to consume the drugs at a party later that night in Donegal. When it was related to him that it was an offence to supply Class A drugs the defendant said that the friends had given him money to purchase the narcotics.
Prosecuting counsel in the case told the Court that the police had no issue with the defendants explanation of how he came to have the substance in his possession. On forensic examination of the substance by police the court heard, that the amount was classified as 13.93 grammes of cocaine. Morrison said that he had paid £300 for the narcotics, whilst police estimated the street value of it to be around £700. The prosecuting counsel also told Derry Crown Court that they accepted that the defendant was entitled to the full credit permitted because of his prompt admissions in relation to the charges.
Defence counsel for Owen Morrison, Mr Mooney told the Court that police had stated that the arrest of his client was not ‘intelligence led’ and that they only reason he had been stopped was for driving offences. Mr Mooney also told the Court that without his clients own admissions relating to the offences that the prosecution service may have found it very difficult to proceed with the case in relation to the supply of the drugs.
Mr Mooney also said that in relation to the charge of taking the vehicle without consent that it was not as serious as initially thought because it belonged to his partner. In relation to the drugs charges, specifically the importation and exportation of Class A drugs, the fact that Morrison admitted that the drugs were to be consumed at a party in Donegal, that is across an international border, was the only reason the case found itself before the Crown Court.
“I’ve dealt with more serious drugs cases in the Magistrates Court,” said Mr Mooney.
Defence counsel also told Crown Court Judge Philip Babington that his client had pleaded guilty to all charges at his arraignment last year. It also emerged that on examination of his mobile phone that no evidence that Owen Morrison had been involved in drug dealing had been detected. A single text message relating to a mention of drugs in fact only served to corroborate what the defendant had told the PSNI initially.
The Court also heard that Morrison had no previous convictions in relation to drugs offences, but did have a prior record for motoring offences.
Morrison’s defence counsel told the Court in mitigation that since these charges had been laid against him he had not re-offended in any way and had voluntarily stopped taking drugs and that he had begun abusing drugs during “a black period in his life.” He also noted that Morrison had said he was “embarrassed” by his appearance in Court.
In passing sentence Crown Court Judge Philip Babington imposed an overall sentence of 10 months, suspended for two years and banned Morrison from driving for a period of 18 months.
Mr Babington warned the defendant that had there been evidence of drug dealing “even at the lowest commercial level”, he would have had no hesitation in imposing an immediate jail term. The judge accepted that Morrison had purchased the narcotics for himself and friends for use at a party but also stated that the very fact he had purchased the substance constituted an intent to supply.
However, the judge told the defendant that he accepted statements contained in a pre-sentence report that there was little likelihood that Morrison would re-offend and he also said it was a mitigating factor that his partner had clearly stated her wholehearted disapproval of his drugs use, which had begun in 2012 after he had sustained an injury that effectively ended his football career.