Englishman jailed for 30-years has reduced to 17-and-a-half

Perry Wharrie
Perry Wharrie

An Englishman jailed for his role in the largest drugs seizure in the history of the State has had his 30 year jail term reduced to 17-and-a-half on appeal.

Perry Wharrie (56), from Loughton, in Essex was given what his lawyers described as the “highest sentence in the history of the State” for drugs offences following the seizure of a record €440 million drugs haul which went awry at Dunlough Bay on the Mizen Peninsula, West Cork on July 2 2007.

Wharrie, who had pleaded not guilty to possession of the drugs for sale or supply, was unanimously found guilty by a Cork Circuit Criminal Court jury and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on July 23 2008.

Two of Wharrie's accomplices, who also pleaded not guilty, were sentenced to 30 years and 25 years respectively for the same offence. A fourth accomplice who pleaded guilty was jailed for ten years.

Wharrie, through his barrister Michael O'Higgins SC, successfully appealed his sentence last July with the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal finding that the sentencing judge “fell into error”.

Giving judgment today Mr Justice Tony Hunt said the main error was that the judge didn't give credit for the fact that Wharrie, unlike his co-accused, refrained from giving false evidence in his trial.

Although that fact was noted by the judge, Wharrie didn't get that mitigation because of his very serious criminal record, Mr Justice Hunt said.

In 1989, Wharrie, along with two other men, was convicted in connection with the shooting dead of off-duty police officer PC Frank Mason(27), who had intervened during an armed robbery in England. During a struggle, a single shot was fired by another party which killed PC Mason.

He was given a life sentence for the officer's murder and was freed on licence, otherwise known as parole, in 2005 having served 16 years.

Mr Justice Hunt said it appeared Wharrie may be required to engage again with the “still extant life sentence” in England when he is done serving time in Ireland and to deprive him of mitigation on that point was “double punishment”.

Furthermore, the judge said Wharrie's presence in this jurisdiction was “accidental”. He had very little connection to Ireland and as such difficulties arose in serving the sentence here.

The court was told previously that Wharrie is a married man with three children and that his wife continues to visit him on a monthly basis.

Mr Justice Hunt, who sat with Mr Justice John McMenamin and Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, said the court considered 22-and-a-half years as the appropriate headline sentence and that Wharrie should be allowed a five year discount for how well he was doing in prison.

The three-judge court quashed Wharries sentence and imposed 17-and-a-half years in its place to date from when he first went into custody.

Wharrie, wearing a navy suit and tie, turned to a number of supporters in the body of the court and winked at them.

The case began when a rigid inflatable boat carrying 1.5 tonnes of cocaine got into difficulties off the south-west coast. One of its petrol engines was filled with diesel, causing the craft to flounder and sink in unseasonably rough July seas.

The cocaine had been transferred to the RIB from a Catamaran named “Lucky day” after a rendezvous at a buoy 30 miles off the Cork Coast.

Life boat crews who came to the aid of the sinking RIB found one of Wharrie's accomplices floating in the sea encircled by 65 bales of cocaine, which was subsequently found to be 75 per cent pure.

There was evidence at the trial that customs officials who went to Dunlough Bay came across Wharrie and another accomplice making their way up from the cliffs. Both men were arrested two days later.

In its judgment, the Court of Criminal Appeal stated that Wharrie not a main organiser or beneficiary in the offence. He may be characterised as an “essential cog” in the wheels of the operation, the judgment stated, but the circumstances in which the perpretators were apprehended did not suggest that they were “particularly competent or talented criminals”.

Wharrie's appeal was the last case to come before the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal, which has since been succeeded by the three-judge Court of Appeal.