NewsCrime Desk

Man's sentence tripled for role in Ireland's 'biggest cannabis growing facility'


Prison sentences imposed on two men for their respective roles in the “biggest cannabis growing facility” ever found in Ireland, were “unduly lenient”, the Court of Appeal has determined.

Rory Kilkenny (33), of Nash, Dunmain, New Ross, Co Wexford, had pleaded guilty at Carlow Circuit Criminal Court to possession of cannabis for sale or supply at Kildalton, Piltown, Co Kilkenny on May 2, 2013.

Christopher Zinck (32), of Ballinbanogue, New Ross, had also pleaded guilty to the same offence.

Kilkenny was sentenced to four years imprisonment while Zinck was given a wholly suspended nine-year sentence by Judge Alice Doyle on May 20, 2015.

The Director of Public Prosecutions successfully sought a review of the men's sentences on grounds that they were “unduly lenient”.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeal resentenced Kilkenny to 12 years imprisonment with the final four suspended while Zinck's case was put back one year “in the hope” that the “exceptional” rehabilitation he had achieved to date could be maintained.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the gardai searched two industrial units at Piltown, Co Kilkenny on the date in question and inside they found 2,504 cannabis plants and 43.54 kilgrams of cannabis herb.

The court was told that the value of the drugs was €2,874,174.

The figure was a notional one in the sense that it was calculated on the basis of what the crop would be worth when all plants came to maturity and did not represent an actual value on the day of the search.

The units had been converted to facilitate the large scale cultivation of cannabis plants and the production, from initial growth to vacuum packing, of the finished product.

It was the gardai's belief that this was the “biggest cannabis growing facility ever located in the country”, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Three Asian gardeners were arrested at the scene and sentenced to seven years imprisonment with the final six suspended on condition they each leave the country immediately. They had been in custody for approximately a year before sentence.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Kilkenny's role was essential and was on an “entirely different level” to the gardeners.

The fact of his involvement in a further offence in June 2014 was “disturbing” and there had been no material co-operation apart from the entry of the plea.

He said the sentence was “unduly lenient” and a starting sentence in excess of 12 years was required. However, he had pleaded guilty and the Circuit Court judge felt that there was some genuine remorse.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Michael Peart and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, said the court would impose 12 years imprisonment with the final four suspended.

Zinck was arrested and admitted his involvement explaining that he was not to share in the profits but was to receive a fee of €5,000 for his involvement.

He told gardai he was involved in delivering items – food, phone credit and a few small electrical things - to Chinese people working in the grow house.

The garda evidence was that he was immediately above the gardeners in terms of involvement and his role was not as elevated as that of others.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Zinck became involved in a “very serious criminal enterprise” and powerful as his mitigating factors were, they did not provide a basis for a non-custodial sentence. To this extent, an error had been identified and the court acceded to the DPP's application for a review.

He said the court was “disturbed” that Zinck became involved in a subsequent offence – the attempted importation of €3,000 worth of cannabis in his stomach – and ordinarily that would indicate a lack of remorse.

However, it was accepted that his involvement in this matter was “borne out of the throes of despair”.

The Circuit Court head from Dr William Collins of Wharton House treatment centre in Waterford who said Zinck was “exceptional” for the radical change he had made in his life which was only achieved by a small percentage of clients, according to his 30 years of experience.

Zinck had slowly emerged from a painful and challenging path to become “bright, capable, hopeful for the future, hardworking, a good father to his newborn daughter, good partner to his girlfriend and a considerate son”. Zinck had been drug free for 18 months at the time, Dr Collins stated.

A second psychologist, who had attended court three times on his behalf, made similar remarks about Zinck's 'inspirational recovery'.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the progress and transformation that had occured could only be described as “exceptional”. It raised the question of whether incarcerating Zinck now would “undermine that progress”.

The court put the matter back until February 13, 2017 “in the hope and expectation that the progress achieved can be maintained”.

Ruaidhrí Giblin