'shocked' | 

Taxi driver jailed after becoming drugs courier to pay son's debt to dealers refused PSV license

Tom Gethins says he feels he should have been allowed to get his taxi license back

Taxi driver Tom Gethins from Sligo who failed to get his taxi licence back at Sligo District court. Gethins was sentenced to three years in prison in 2016 after being found with cocaine and cannabis in his taxi.

Patrick O'Connell

MEET the 'hard-working' taxi driver whose livelihood 'is gone for life' after he used his vehicle to courier cocaine and cannabis.

Sligo father-of-four Tom Gethins was previously sentenced to three years in prison after a court heard he used his taxi to courier almost €20,000 worth of drugs in a bid to pay off a debt run up by his son Kyle.

The 60-year-old returned to court last week seeking the return of his Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence - but this was refused after Garda Chief Superintendent Aidan Glacken said he was "not of suitable character" to drive a taxi.

Approached by the Sunday World this week and asked whether he felt he should have gotten his licence back, Gethins told our reporter: "I did, yeah.

"But it's all the same what you say in this town, he just wouldn't agree with me and that's it, the Superintendent like."

Gethins, of Garavogue Villas, Sligo, was caught with €19,212 worth of cocaine and cannabis after his taxi was stopped by gardai on October 6, 2015.

The drugs were found in his trousers pockets, while deals of cocaine were located in the taxi.

Sentencing Gethins to three years in prison in 2016, Judge Keenan Johnson said the defendant had made full admissions to officers at Sligo Garda Station after his arrest at Langan Drive and told them there were further drugs at his home and in a van parked outside.

The defendant also indicated the reason he was in possession of the illegal substances was because he was put under pressure in respect of a drug debt incurred by his son, Kyle, who had emigrated to Australia, and he had been forced to act as a drug courier.

However, the judge noted the primary aggravating factor in the case was the quantity of the drugs, which had a combined value of over €22,000.

Returning to court last week, where he sought to overturn a refusal to renew his PSV licence, Gethins' lawyers argued the 60-year-old had a constitutional right to 'his livelihood'.

Defending solicitor John Anderson said his client wanted to become a useful member of society.

He said it was in the judge's power for him to get his PSV licence back and if the appeal was refused, his client's job would be gone for life.

Mr Anderson acknowledged Gethins had made a mistake but there were other mitigating factors - he had got involved in the drugs world involuntarily.

He told the court his client had worked legitimately both as a council worker and taxi driver for 30 years.

He said he had effectively been forced into couriering drugs to satisfy a drug debt and help his son go to Australia.

He said the fact his son was no longer in this jurisdiction meant the risk was no longer there.

He pointed out his client had not come to the attention of the gardai since.

Gethins told the court he had made numerous applications for jobs but had no interviews and couldn't get work as a driver as he needed Garda pre-clearance.

When his licence was revoked, he said he had appealed to Judge Kevin Kilrane, who told him to try again when he got out of prison.

He sat the multiple-question exam on the computer without any assistance and re-applied for his licence but was "shocked" when it was refused again.

Chief Superintendent Aidan Glacken said that in making his decision to revoke his licence, he had to consider if Gethins was a "suitable person" - and character and conduct were important to this.

He said that nine days after obtaining his licence Gethins was stopped, searched and found with over €22,000 worth of cocaine and cannabis, to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.

He said this was the determining and influencing factor in his decision to revoke the licence.

Furthermore, he said he had an obligation to the safety of the public, which was placing its trust in the driver.

The aggravating factor for him was that Gethins was transporting cocaine which was broken down to a number of deals contained in the sunglasses holder above the driver's seat.

He said: "On the grounds of public safety, I could not reach a water level that would say he is a suitable person. I was not satisfied his character meets this."

Sligo State Solicitor Elisa McHugh and barrister Helen Johnson represented the State.

In response to Mr Anderson's suggestion to the judge to renew the licence for six months, Ms Johnson said custodial sentences affect all and his client, having served a substantial imprisonment period of 22 months, must face the consequences of his actions.

Judge Sandra Murphy said she could only deal with the appeal, and was satisfied in relation to the appeals process that the correct procedures were followed.

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