A man involved in a plot to import nearly £150,000 worth of heroin into Northern Ireland must serve 15 months in jail, the Court of Appeal ruled today.
Senior judges held that the original suspended sentence imposed on 42-year-old Omar Ahamad for his role in smuggling illicit consignments through the post was unduly lenient.
The Somali national received a new term of two years and six months, with half to be spent behind bars and the rest on licence.
Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan ordered him to be taken from the courtroom and into prison.
“Cases involving the importation of Class A drugs will attract immediate custodial sentences in this jurisdiction,” she stressed.
Ahamad was detained at Belfast International Airport in July last year as he was set to board a one-way flight to Paris.
The arrest came after UK Border Force officers intercepted packages sent from Kenya to two addresses in Belfast linked to him.
The parcels contained approximately one kilo of heroin.
Further quantities of heroin and cannabis were seized during follow-up searches at the two properties in Belfast linked to Ahamad.
Police estimated the haul had a potential street value of £146,000.
Ahamad, a hotel worker who lived at Beechmount Gardens in Belfast, pleaded guilty to six drug charges, which included importing and possessing heroin with intent to supply.
He was originally sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for three years.
The trial judge accepted that he was pressured into becoming in the racket and had no trappings of wealth.
Ahamad’s troubled background as an asylum seeker who arrived in Northern Ireland in 2015 and his alleged work with the Belfast Islamic Centre were also highlighted.
The Director of Public Prosecutions challenged his sentence on the grounds that it was unduly lenient.
Backing those submissions, the Court of Appeal identified a legal error in the decision to give Ahamad a suspended term.
“Good character does not reduce culpability in a case of this nature,” Dame Siobhan said.
“We do not think there are exceptional circumstances to justify a suspended sentence.”
She directed: “(Ahamad) will have to submit to Prison Service staff, given we are imposing immediate custody.”
Outside court, police claimed the outcome will help in disrupting the supply of dangerous drugs and lining the pockets of criminals.
Detective Inspector Kelly of the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch said the operation had removed a significant amount of heroin from the streets of Belfast.
“These drugs once divided up could have produced approximately 6,000 street deals,” the detective added.
“Heroin has a profound physical and mental effect on vulnerable individuals and causes untold pain to their families.
“It has been a factor in multiple deaths in recent years and, had these drugs made their way onto the streets, this could have led to further loss of life or serious medical implications for users.
“I believe our investigation, and today’s result, will help to disrupt the supply of dangerous drugs on our streets and the lining of criminals' pockets.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.