Helicopter engineer at centre of heroin syndicate jailed for three years

A helicopter engineer has been jailed for three years for being at the centre of a syndicate of men importing heroin into Shetland.

Andrew Keith McAlister, 46, of Hardbrakes Place in Dunrossness, was told he had helped give the isles the highest rate of heroin abuse in Scotland.

He appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court for sentence after earlier having admitted supplying the class A drug from his home address between 1st January last year and 4th September this year.

The court had heard that McAlister had acted as a lynchpin in a group that regularly imported heroin worth £2,000 to £3,000.

A police search of his house on 4th September uncovered 20 grammes of heroin along with thousands of pounds in cash and drug dealing equipment.

Bank deposits showed McAlister had paid £13,500 into someone else’s bank account over a three month period.

Defence agent Tommy Allan said McAlister –  who had been responsible for the maintenance of coastguard helicopters at Sumburgh – had led an “unspectacular life” with “one job – one profession – and no previous convictions”.

Mr Allan said McAlister had not gained financially from being part of the syndicate. Instead he had been involved to help fund his own drug habit.

“He emphatically denied being involved in the supply of the drug for his own profit,” Mr Allan said. He added he that McAlister had kept his problems hidden from his work colleagues and from his family.

“The fact of his addiction came as a shock to him. In his attempt to keep the matter hidden he has been drawn further and further into it, but he had managed to keep it from his family … and indeed his work.”

McAlister had lost his job as a result of the offence, and also stood to lose his home. However Mr Allan said a reference showed his employers had “nothing but the highest of regard for his abilities and his work, which by its nature is very stressful and is probably one of the most monitored and documented kinds of work people do today”.

He said McAlister had been “forthright” about his involvement following his arrest. “There are quite considerable debts, but that is the inevitable consequence of the consumption of a drug which is so expensive,” he said.

He said McAlister had abstained from drugs since he was taken into custody, adding he did not intend to take them again.

Sheriff Graeme Napier said he was impressed by McAlister’s attempts to stay clean, and the fact he had not attempted to make money out of the exercise.

However he said Shetland’s growing drug dependency was becoming patently clear  – not least because heroin was now three times as prevalent here as it was elsewhere in Scotland.

“You’ve taken the opportunity to do something about your heroin addiction, and I hope you remain committed to being clean of these for the rest of your life,” he said.

“It’s a sobering fact that I have just received information that would indicate Shetland has the worst drug problems in Scotland.

“The supply of drugs remains at a significant level, and it’s people like you that have allowed that to happen.”


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