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Married couple on dole convicted of running cocaine, cannabis and pills business

Addressing mother-of-four Alesa, Judge Smyth told her it was 'a complete disgrace the way your raised your children in a home filled with drugs'

William Leonard Rice and his wife Alesa Rice were convicted in Antrim Court

Paul Higgins

A married couple involved in the "commercial supply of drugs" have been handed jail sentences totalling almost nine years.

While 53-year-old Alesa Rice walked free from Antrim Crown Court when her two-year sentence was suspended, her hubby William Leonard Rice was handcuffed and carted off to Maghaberry to begin his stretch.

Imposing a sentence of six years and nine months on William, Judge Patricia Smyth told the 53-year-old - who has been under a death threat since he was caught red-handed - that he would serve half that sentence behind bars and half on licence.

In a stinging rebuke of the Larne couple, the judge told them: "Both of you stand before this court as criminals involved in the commercial supply of drugs.

"Yet you have the audacity to claim concern about the impact on your children should both of you be incarcerated when three young children existed in a home where drugs were visible and where they were exposed to their older brother who was frequently under the influence of drugs - all of that is your responsibility."

Addressing mother-of-four Alesa directly, Judge Smyth told her it was "a complete disgrace the way your raised your children in a home filled with drugs" and despite a plea that her children would be taken into care if she was jailed, "I have considered very carefully whether they might be better off in care given the way they have been raised".

At an earlier hearing William Rice entered guilty pleas to five drug offences of having class A cocaine, class B drugs cannabis and amphetamines, and class C drug diazepam, all with intent to supply - and a further charge of attempting to cultivate cannabis.

His wife pleaded to a single count of being concerned in supplying cannabis, all committed on February 20, 2020.

Summarising the case during her damning sentencing remarks last Tuesday, Judge Smyth described how police raided the couple's family on the outskirts of Larne on February 20 2020 and discovered half a dozen bags of amphetamine, also known as speed, a bag of herbal cannabis, a blister pack of 14 diazepam tablets and half a dozen bags of cocaine.

Alesa Rice

In total, cops seized 2.8kilos of low-purity speed and 800 grams of high-grade cocaine which had purity levels between 51 and 79 per cent.

As well as the drugs, said the judge, cops uncovered drug dealing paraphernalia including cocaine-cutting agents benzocaine and creatin, a hydraulic press and plates, a heat sealing machine and an electric whisk which had traces of speed, cocaine and benzocaine still on it.

In a room above the garage, cops also uncovered "the remnants of a cannabis factory" including lights, fans, battery packs, plant pots and power points and the room had been "covered entirely with foil".

Despite neither of the couple working and their only income coming from state benefits, police also seized £7,000 in cash hidden in a bedroom safe, two motorbikes including a Harley Davidson and four cars including one which had a personalised plate.

The Rice family home in Larne

Judge Smyth said police investigations uncovered a fingerprint of Alesa Rice on the bag of cannabis while examinations of her mobile phone "showed evidence that she was involved in the sale of drugs".

Arrested and interviewed, William Rice admitted that he had tried to grow cannabis before but claimed that he was "under duress to provide his premises for the use of others and to store the mixture of drugs," a claim described by the judge as a "standard response to detection".

For her part, Alesa Rice "denied any knowledge of the drugs" and tried to put the blame onto her son and husband, but Judge Smyth said any examination of her claims showed them to be "absolute nonsense".

Describing the seizures as a "large haul of drugs," the judge said William Rice's offences were aggravated because of the "numerous types of drugs and the presence of the mixing agents and press" and with no explanation how he became involved "in an enterprise of this magnitude... I do not accept that you were under duress".

William Leonard Rice with one of his motorbikes

She told Alesa Rice that similarly, she did not accept her claims that "it's everybody else's fault, it's your son's fault, it's your husband's fault and that's how you came into contact with criminal elements".

"I accept that you had a difficult early life but none of that either explains or justifies your voluntary involvement in the drugs trade - and it is voluntary. I want to make that absolutely clear - it's your responsibility," said the judge.

While William Rice was jailed, Alesa Rice's sentence was suspended for four years because, with her children facing the prospect of going into care, "I don't see why your children should suffer more than they already have," said the judge.

She warned the self-confessed dealer, however: "You can expect to go straight to prison if you commit any other offence in that time."

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