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Reading Crown Court: 'Overcrowded' prisons spelled freedom for Newbury drug dealer





A JUDGE agreed to suspend a drug dealer's custodial sentence, citing Britain's "overcrowded" jails.

Judge Heather Norton said "the current state" of the prison system was a factor in her decision, despite the large amount of drugs seized.

In the dock at Reading Crown Court for sentencing on Wednesday, March 9, was Aaron Allen.

Cocaine (57239818)
Cocaine (57239818)

The 33-year-old, who lives at Howarth Court, Newbury, was caught by police driving a hired vehicle in the town on December 30, 2021, with around £1,000 worth of cannabis and cocaine worth more than £3,000 in 'deal' bags.

Allen admitted possessing the Class B-controlled drug cannabis with intent to supply it.

But he insisted the cocaine, a Class A-controlled drug, was for his own use – and this was accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Judge Norton demanded an explanation of that decision from Matthew Knight, prosecuting.

She said: "Do explain to me how having that amount of cocaine represents anything other than intent to supply."

Mr Knight said an expert consulted by police said that, in the absence of any other evidence, the amount of cocaine suggested Allen "may" have been dealing.

He added: "As the drugs expert wasn't more forceful in their opinion, it was decided to charge him with simple possession.

"It could have been tested before a jury but the reviewing officer felt the crown didn't have a realistic prospect of conviction."

Judge Norton later made clear that she did not believe for a moment that the cocaine was purely for Allen's use, but that her hands were tied and she would sentence him according to the lesser charge.

Ged O'Connor, defending, described his client's "long-standing involvement" with drugs and said: "This has driven a chaotic lifestyle and an escapist reliance on illegal drugs from a young age, leading to damage to his life and relationships.

"This court will be wearily familiar with such a story.

"However, this is a little different because, despite that history of drug dependence it has not been accompanied by a history of acquisitive crimes to fund the habit; he usually works to fund his habit.

"He is now desperate to rid himself of an addiction which has blighted his life."

Judge Norton said: "He was arrested with 53 bags of cocaine worth £3,220...I have to say, it doesn't add up.

"The pre-sentence report says he has a cocaine habit costing £20 a day.

"Common sense would dictate that was not all for his own use.

"He was on universal credit but could afford to buy drugs and afford a hire car."

Nevertheless, she told Allen: "Whatever my cynicism suggests, the fact is you've pleaded guilty to simple possession of cocaine and the prosecution decided to accept that plea.

"I can't go behind that, whatever I might think."

She sentenced Allen to nine months imprisonment.

Judge Norton added: "The guidelines state that, when there's a relatively short sentence, or one on the cusp of a custodial sentence, it may be appropriate to suspend it.

"Given the current state of prisons and the overcrowding, I am going to suspend that sentence for 15 months."



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