A Belfast man who played a part in the supply of heroin to a woman who later fatally overdosed on the Class A drug was handed a jail sentence on Wednesday.
Highlighting the dangers presented by both the supply and use of drugs, Her Honour Judge McCaffrey handed dealer Liam Dowds a sentence of two years and eight months for a charge of being concerned in the supply of heroin to another.
From River Terrace in the Malone Lower area of the city, the 35-year old was informed he will serve half his 32-month sentence in prison, with the remainder of the sentence spent on supervised licence when he is released from custody.
Dowds was arrested following the death of a 25-year old woman, who died in the toilets of the KFC restaurant on Belfast’s Donegall Place last March. The woman’s family said that prior to the accidental overdose, she had been clean for months, was looking to the future and was excited about moving into a new house.
Text messages located on the young woman’s phone linked her to Dowds, who put her in touch with a man who sold her a wrap of heroin for £50. Just hours after buying the drug, the north Belfast woman was found dead in the upstairs area of fast food outlet by a member of staff.
Belfast Crown Court heard that on Saturday March 7, 2015, the woman and a male friend had stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of Belfast. As they returned back to the city in a taxi the following afternoon, the man was dropped off whilst the woman went to a bar in south Belfast.
Texts were exchanged between her and a man named on her phone as Dowsy, who told her a friend of his would sell her a half a gram of heroin for £50. She then travelled to the Ormeau area in a taxi, and the driver later told police he saw her meet a man who handed her something.
She got back into the taxi and was dropped off in the city centre, and entered the KFC outlet at 4.59pm. She went to the upstairs toilets, and her lifeless body was discovered at 9.45pm by a member of staff who was checking the cubicles before closing.
The court heard that the staff member alerted the manager, who in turn alerted the ambulance service and police. She was pronounced dead at 12.35am, and when the toilet cubicle was examined by police, they found several items associated with drugs use, including needles and silver foil. Also found in the cubicle was medication prescribed by her doctor.
A post mortem concluded the young woman died from heroin overdose, which was further complicated by the presence of other substances, and that death would have occurred soon after she took the heroin.
Crown prosecutor Robin Steer said the woman had a “long history of addiction” to heroin, and had been “struggling” with the Class A drug for seven years.
Dowds was arrested in January 2016 following a detailed examination of the woman’s phone. During interview, he gave a ‘no comment’ response to police questions.
Mr Steer said Dowds later admitted a charge of being concerned in the supply of heroin. He also said Dowds was able to put a user with an associate for “indirect supply.”
Defence barrister Arthur Harvey QC said there as nothing to indicate Dowds was anything more than a “low level street dealer”, adding that rather than being a direct supplier, he was a “conduit for which the supply was made”.
Addressing his client’s criminal record, which included a charge of possessing a Class B drug aged 13, Mr Harvey said Dowds had led a “chaotic lifestyle because of his own misuse of substances.” The barrister also said that since his arrest earlier this year, Dowds had passed several prison drugs tests.
Mr Harvey also spoke of the tragedy surrounding the young woman’s death, telling the court that what happened to her on the afternoon of Sunday, March 8 last year was “simply unimaginable” after consuming a cocktail of substances.
Dowds, the barrister said, has accepted a “moral responsibility” for what happened which “he has to live with for the rest of his life”.
Passing sentence, Judge McCaffrey said the young woman’s death should act as a reminder of the dangers of drugs. She also spoke of the devastating impact the death has had on the woman’s family.