Festival ‘friend’ was an undercover officer

George William Hammersley got more than he expected when he sold ecstasy to his “new friend” at the Electric Avenues music festival – a trip to the Christchurch Courts.

The 25-year-old self-employed builder’s $20 transaction at Hagley Park on February 23 was with an undercover police officer and Hammersley found himself facing charges of possessing and supplying drugs.

A batch of a potent and lethal drug, known as brown sugar, turned up at the festival in 2018, putting 13 people in hospital, including a 15-year-old. That drug has been linked to deaths overseas.

For the 2019 festival, organisers ruled out drug testing because they feared prosecution but the number of police, medical staff, and security officers on site was stepped up.

Police said afterwards that two festival-goers were treated at Christchurch Hospital following suspected MDMA use, another was arrested for drug-related offending and three for disorder.

Hammersley pleaded guilty to the drug charges and appeared for sentencing before Judge Brian Callaghan at the Christchurch District Court today.

Defence counsel Jannah Stringer submitted that a prison term was not required because of Hammersley’s pro-social lifestyle, his good record, and the steps he had already taken to attend a brief intervention rehabilitation programme at Odyssey House.

The amount involved was small, she said. Hammersley had provided one capsule weighing 0.23g, which contained 0.14g of ecstasy. She suggested a community detention sentence.

Judge Callaghan said Hammersley had taken some ketamine to the festival “obviously to provide a stimulant for the gathering”.

He became friendly with someone who turned out to be an undercover officer, who inquired if he could get him some MDMA – known as ecstasy.

Hammersley obtained some of the class B controlled drug from another person and sold it to the officer. The officer paid with a marked $20 note, which Judge Callaghan has ordered returned to the police.

Police said the drug was readily available at the festival and told of the hospital admissions.

Police found $455 cash on Hammersley and he and his friends have had to explain that before the judge agreed that it could be given back. He was looking after some of it for one friend, and another friend had paid for an Electric Avenues ticket he had bought for them online.

“I am satisfied that there are viable explanations why he had that amount of cash on him,” he said.

Judge Callaghan accepted that a prison term was not necessary for the dealing, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ prison. He said: “There is nothing in what happened to suggest that it was a commercial operation at the time. But it is still serious offending. It shows a willingness to become involved, but it is at the lower level.”

He imposed four months of community detention, during which Hammersley will be curfewed at home each night, and ordered the destruction of the drugs.