Judge Keenan Johnson says customers should have to produce ID when doing so.

A Circuit Court judge has called  for urgent changes to the law to prevent the sale of mobile phones without the need to produce some form of ID.

Judge Keenan Johnson said the ongoing ability of people to walk into shops and buy phones without any record kept of who was purchasing them was facilitating crime.

The judge said he had no doubt that laws preventing the sale of such phones would reduce crime levels and make life more difficult for criminals.

Judge Johnson made his remarks at Tullamore Circuit Criminal Court as he handed down a three-year suspended sentence to a Latvian national who was found in possession of a fully loaded semi-automatic pistol and 18 rounds of ammunition when his car was stopped by gardaí near the toll plaza on the M7 outside Portlaoise on February 25, 2016.

Valerijs Vins (30) of School Lane, Dunleer, Co Louth had pleaded guilty to two charges of possessing the weapon and ammunition under the Firearms Act.

Detective Garda Karen Sourke told the court that the Glock pistol was found in a bag of the boot when the accused’s vehicle was stopped after gardaí had mounted a covert surveillance operation following a tip-off.

Det Garda Sourke said Vins originally claimed he had travelled from his home to Limerick to inspect a second-hand car he wanted to buy but later admitted the purpose of the visit was to collect a package from an unknown individual.

He explained he was under pressure to collect the package as he owed a drug debt of €20,000 to a criminal gang.

Vins stated €10,000 would be wiped off the amount he owed if he carried out the task.

While Gardaí were able to trace the phone number used to give Vins instructions about collecting the firearm, Det Garda Sourke said it could not be linked to a registered owner.

Judge Johnson said he could not understand why people were still able to buy unregistered pre-paid phones.

Cross examined by Kathleen Leader SC, for Vins, Det Garda Sourke agreed that the accused was “absolutely terrified” as he genuinely believed he and his family were under threat from the criminal gang.

He had also sought protection while he was remanded in custody in prison after receiving a further threat.

Det Garda Sourke also accepted the claim by Vins, a father of two who has been living in Ireland since 2008, that he did not know what a stranger had put in the boot of his car in a laneway near the railway station in Limerick, although he was aware it was not legal.

Judge Johnson said the offences carried a maximum jail sentence of 14 years in order to tackle the problem of gangland crime and its corrosive effect on society.

However, he said the circumstances of the case were exceptional and specific to not warrant the mandatory presumptive minimum sentence of five years.

The judge said Vins had turned his life around and had been clear of drugs for the past four years and was highly regarded in his work as a panel beater.

He also acknowledged that Vins was acting under duress from a criminal gang and was terrified as he felt he had no option but to do what they asked.

Imposing a three year jail sentence on Vins which he suspended for a period of ten years, the judge also ordered him to carry out 240 hours of community service and to donate his bail bond of €5,000 to charity to be split equally between the Mountrath Youth Diversion Project and the Laois Domestic Abuse Service.





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