A young woman who pleaded guilty to bringing heroin worth up to £4,200 into Shetland narrowly escaped prison when she appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court today.
Mhairi-Claire Stewart, 20, of Lerwick’s King Harald Street, was stopped by police at Holmsgarth ferry terminal on 22nd September in an intelligence-led operation.
The court heard Stewart was detained and taken to Lerwick Police Station, where a strip search did not reveal the drug. However she co-operated with police and produced a package from her insides.
Initially she said she had no idea what it contained, but thought it was speed. Her explanation was that she had been approached by someone in Aberdeen she did not know and offered £400 to take the package to Shetland.
The package was found to contain 30.1 grammes of heroin worth a maximum of £4,200.
Defence solicitor Tommy Allan said first-time offender Stewart had felt coerced into taking the package. She had been subject to pressure, with threats made to her and her family. Although she knew the package contained drugs and was illegal, fear prevented her from contacting the authorities.
Mr Allan said the case was unusual as Stewart was not a drug user herself. Sheriff Philip Mann remarked this could be an aggravating feature as she was willing to supply others.
Mr Allan said Stewart had acted out of naivete, and her dyspraxia made it difficult to make appropriate choices about good and bad. She had been “way out of her depth”, and when she found out what the drug was she was ashamed and shocked. Since her arrest she had done what she could to sort things out, she had a “very favourable” report and was unlikely to re-offend. She was well aware that a prison sentence was likely, but had pleaded guilty at an early stage and was a “vulnerable” person.
Mr Allan asked the sheriff to take into account her difficult family circumstances and the effect a prison sentence would have on her family – she is the main carer for her mother.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie said the excuse of coercion was “always tripped out” in drugs cases, and Stewart, as someone who had “been around” drugs, must have known that if she was offered £400 the package would have been more valuable than speed.
Sheriff Mann said this was a “difficult” case as the law says a custodial sentence is mandatory for even a first offence of this type, unless there are exceptional circumstances. He would deal with this in another way, he said, albeit with a “degree of hesitation” as he would not expect anyone to think they could come out with excuses and avoid a sentence.
However in this case he imposed a community payback order with a supervision requirement of 18 months and a requirement to engage with drugs counselling. He also told Stewart she must carry out 300 hours of unpaid work within nine months. These measures were a direct alternative to custody, he told her, and if she failed to comply she could expect a lengthy prison sentence.