An off-duty PSNI officer was sentenced to three-and-a-half-years on Friday after he was caught with 100 Ecstasy tablets in an undercover police surveillance operation.
Sean Paul Race (31), with an address in Comber, Co Down, pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to a charge of possessing the Class A drugs with intent to supply during the “targeted operation’’.
Prosecution barrister David Russell told the court that on July 3, 2013, two police officers stopped Race at the Junction of Agincourt Avenue and Rugby Road in south Belfast.
“He was placed under control and during a search of his person a money bag containing small blue tablets was found in his right trouser pocket. These tablets were examined and found to be 100 Ecstasy tablets.’’
Race was taken to Antrim police and replied “no comment’’ at interview.
At a follow up interview two months later, the court heard Race had with him a prepared statement in which he said that he found the drugs in a hedge after the they were “thrown away a hedge following a confrontation with a man and was going to bring them to the police’’.
His defence had been that it was a case of “entrapment’’ and that he had been “set up in some way’’.
But Mr Russell told the court that this was a “lying defence’’.
“He was a serving police officer at the time of this offence and the accused had been under observation by a surveillance team.’’
Following his arrest, Race quit the PSNI after almost ten years of service and moved to the Republic of Ireland to work with charities UNICEF and Infinity to carry out fundraising work.
Judge Neil Rafferty QC heard how police watchers observed him walking to the Stranmillis Road with his young son, approach a Nissan Almera car registered to an address in Magdala Street, get into the car and drive off.
Two mobile phones were seized - one belonged to Race and the other to the driver of the Nissan. A house at Magadala Street was searched two months later and drugs were seized.
“This was clearly a commercial operation,’’ said Mr Russell. “It was planned in advance and it was not an off the cuff meeting.’’
“There was a significant number of tablets involved and he knew was going to get a considerable reward for it.’’
He added that the aggravating factor in the case that although Race was not on duty at the time of the offence, he was a “serving police officer’’ and with that came the public trust in a public servant to “carry out his duties with integrity both in work life but also in private life too’’.
Defence counsel Richard Greene QC said Race’s career now lay in tatters and had lost his good name with his professional colleagues in the PSNI and had also lost his work with Infinity in Dublin as a result of his guilty plea.
He told the court that Race could not deal with the stresses of his police job and abused alcohol and took legal highs and other drugs to cope with his “chaotic life’’.
Mr Greene QC said part of that stress resulted from a paramilitary death delivered to him by police on a ‘PM1’ form saying republicans knew he was visiting females at addresses in west Belfast.
Adding that Race was “remorseful for his significant error or judgement’’, the defence counsel urged the court not to impose an immediate custodial sentence in an effort to allow the former policeman to rebuild his life and continue his relationship with his son.
Judge Neil Rafferty QC said Race had been “effectively caught red handed’’ in the covert police operation and had put forward a “lying defence’’ of entrapment, made a ‘’no comment’’ interview, and only pleaded guilty close to the start of his trial.
“In his letter to me he expresses the hope not to receive a custodial sentence so he can maintain the relationship with his son. This was the same son he took drug dealing,’’ said Judge Rafferty QC.
“What is clear in this case and these circumstances is that at the time he was a serving police officer who willingly involved himself in this offence for which he has now pleaded guilty.
Giving credit of his guilty plead and clear record, the judge imposed a sentence of three and half years in custody.
“I have considered whether there any exceptional elements to this case that would allow me to suspend this sentence.
“Unfortunately, Mr Race, I have concluded there no exceptional circumstances. You will served 21 months in custody followed by 21 months on supervised licence,’’ added Judge Rafferty QC.
As the sentence was passed, Race stood with his head bowed before he was led away in handcuffs by a prison guard.
The court granted a disposal order for the 100 Ecstasy tablets and the two mobile phones seized.