On 5 June 2015, the Mirror covered the story of Simon Beveridge, 27.
Beveridge admitted possession of cocaine with intent to supply. It seems that he, being a user of cannabis, had run up a drug debt. Finding himself unable to pay the debt, he was given “some white powder” and a mobile phone and told him that dealing for them would erase his debt. He did so, but unfortunately for him was visited by the police and was visibly shaking. When asked by the police if he was in possession of any drugs, “he went to a black jacket and produced a package of 7.7g of cocaine in 15 bags, worth £310”.
In mitigation, his representative said: “
“He’s extremely remorseful and through me he expresses his apologies and regret for this. He’s a long-term user of cannabis. He’s got himself well out of his depth here. He’s clearly never been to custody before. He’s a vulnerable young man. I can tell you he’s absolutely terrified at the thought of going to custody.”
The judge asked for Beveridge to stand in the witness box and speak to him – in a somewhat unusual move. The judge asked Beveridge why he was selling cocaine; he replied with the account set out above.
The judge said: “In the normal course there is no doubt that people who sell Class A drugs go to prison…Drugs are a scourge. They are corrupting, they are addictive and people who prey on the weaknesses of others should expect immediate custodial sentences…Of course his debt problems are entirely his own fault, nonetheless it seems to me there was a degree of pressure there…I’m satisfied he told me the truth. That was, in my judgment, breathtakingly frank.”
He imposed a suspended sentence of 2 years imprisonment, suspended for 2 years with 120 hours of unpaid work and a supervision order.
The judge said he had asked himself what the best course of action was, concluding that a non-custodial sentence was in the best interests of Beveridge and “much more importantly” those of the community. The justification was that Beveridge’s naivety would attract the attention of “streetwise criminals” in prison and that exposing Beveridge to that was not the best course of action.
This is a breath of fresh air. In this case a custodial sentence was plainly warranted. The judge appears to have applied the legislation correctly: firstly, consider the appropriate length of sentence, and then (and only then) consider whether it should be suspended. Therefore, a custodial sentence hangs over him and should he slip up, he’ll be back before the court and most likely be sent to prison.
As for the justification, no doubt some readers will consider this to be wishy washy liberal nonsense; I happen to consider it to be a very sensible decision, and a brave one at that, knowing that the press would leap on the story and make a bit of a song and dance about it.
Recognising that Beveridge is not a serious drug dealer and was doing so only to pay off drug debt, it is by far and away in everyone’s interest to rid him of his drug habit and steer him away from a life of crime, something which would have been more difficult had he been sent to custody (as he could not work, earn money, support any family/dependants etc.).
We’d be interested to hear your views in the comments below…