Scale of meth seizures may cause sentencing re-think

File image. © Andrew Bardwell
File image. © Andrew Bardwell

New Zealand may need to re-think its sentencing regime for the class A drug methamphetamine in the light of recent huge drug busts, says a Christchurch lawyer.

Drug interceptions and seizures are getting bigger, including the arrest of several men for a Northland meth importation involving 494kg of the drug worth nearly $500 million.

Defence counsel Tony Garrett made the comment at the Christchurch District Court sentencing of repeat meth dealer Scott Andrew Swarbrick, 36, who faced maximum penalties of life imprisonment for his latest round of offending where he had been found with $900 cash, drugs paraphernalia and about 32g of methamphetamine.

Courts would soon be dealing with cases involving significantly large amounts of meth, and might have to re-think the sentencing regime that was now in place.

A very long sentence was not justified for Swarbrick, he said. “This is not as serious as a lot of cases we are going to be dealing with.”

Swarbrick has seven pages listing his previous convictions, for dishonesty and meth dealing, including a seven-and-a-half year sentence imposed in 2007.

Mr Garrett said Swarbrick had probably only spent one year outside prison since then. “It is not difficult to comprehend that being on release back into the Canterbury community, there were huge pressures and temptations to do exactly what he did.”

Swarbrick had pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine for supply, offering to supply methamphetamine, conspiracy to supply methamphetamine, offering to supply cannabis, and five firearms and ammunition charges.

Judge Tom Gilbert said the sentencing had to protect the community from the harm caused by methamphetamine. Personal factors had to be secondary to issues of deterrence and denunciation when drug dealing was involved.

Letters from Swarbrick showed indications of remorse, but he also noted that he had said he had been dealing to make money having fallen on difficult times after losing his job. He was assessed as being a moderate to high risk of reoffending.

Swarbrick was arrested in a series of police raids in December at the end of Operation Stone, targeting gangs and the distribution of methamphetamine around the South Island. In an intercepted exchange of messages, he had spoken of a meth shipment about to land in Christchurch looking like a hail storm.

The judge noted that four firearms and ammunition had been found in a lock-up rented by Swarbrick. “The fact that a meth dealer such as yourself has amassed such an arsenal to which ready access can be gained is a seriously aggravating factor.” There was a capacity for drug deals to go wrong, and those involved to resort to guns.

He imposed a jail term of four years ten months with a non-parole term of two years six months, ordered forfeiture of the $900 cash found, and destruction of the drugs and equipment.


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