Man Jailed For 11 Years After Flying €8.4m Worth Of Drugs Into Midlands

The aircraft was monitored by the GNDOCB in 2022.

A "Walter Mitty-type" character, who played an "important logistical role" in smuggling €8.4m worth of cocaine to Ireland via an "open corridor" aerodrome in the midlands, has been jailed for 11 years.

Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) officers kept a Cessna single-engine aircraft, which flew from Dieppe in France, under surveillance when it landed at Abbeyshrule Aerodrome, Co. Longford, on the evening of August 4, 2022.

A short time later, they intercepted father of one Tim Gilchrist who was "caught red-handed" at the Lough Owel area in Co. Westmeath, and recovered 120 kilogrammes of cocaine from his car.

Wearing a green T-shirt, grey tracksuit bottoms, and runners, Tim Gilchrist, 56, of Mavis Bank, Newrath, Waterford, and showed no reaction when the sentence was imposed.

The accused, who told gardai he was a company director with business interests in Uganda, pleaded guilty at Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court to possessing drugs worth €13,000 or more for sale or supply at Lough Owel, Irishtown, Co. Westmeath, on the date of his arrest. Gilchrist also admitted unlawfully importing the cocaine in the light aircraft.

Prosecution evidence was heard on Tuesday, and the case was adjourned until yesterday/today (Thur) when Judge Keenan Johnson handed down an 11 and a half-year sentence, with the final six months suspended.

He voiced concerns about "open corridor" airfields around the country and called for "significant upgrading" of security and 24-hour monitoring and checks.

The defence counsel described Gilchrist as a Walter Mitty-type character. However, gardai thought he gave a fanciful account to the investigation team about being under duress which could not be corroborated.

The judge noted the considerable degree of planning and Gilchrist's "active and important logistical role" and held the accused did it for financial gain.

The sentence was backdated to August 4, 2020, when he went into custody.

Judge Johnson set a headline of 16 years and six months but held the terms could be reduced due to the guilty plea, information heard in mitigation, and his lack of previous convictions.

The court heard Gilchrist, who used the Cessna for "leisure" flying, claimed he was under duress from two men who threatened him unless he followed their instructions.

However, GNDOCB Detective Sergeant Ciaran Cummins characterised Gilchrist's version of events as "fanciful".

Detective Sergeant Cummins agreed with prosecuting counsel John Hayden BL that the investigation arose from information received about a Cessna light aircraft used to bring controlled drugs into the jurisdiction.

The GNDOCB set up an operation at Abbeyshrule Aerodrome.

The Cessna, carrying two men, landed at 5.25 pm, and bags were removed from the aircraft.

Gilchrist was driving a 2009 registered Alfa Romeo car and was followed by the gardai before they stopped him near Lough Owel.

They searched the car and found five black holdall bags and a suitcase in the boot. It contained 120 kilos of cocaine worth €8.4m, the court was told.

The officers arrested Gilchrist and questioned him at Ashbourne Garda station.

He admitted possessing the drugs and "put forward a narrative in relation to how he got involved in the importation" and "put his hands up".

Subsequent investigations into his assertions would not support his story, Detective Sergeant Cummins told the court.

Quoting his statement, Mr Hayden said Gilchrist told gardai, "One day, two men arrived at my home late at night, about a month ago, and said you are flying in a plane, we seen you. You are going to do something for us."

He claimed that he was told, "And if I didn't do it, I would have another problem." He maintained that he told them, "I'm going to the guards," but one of them threatened his daughter.

He told the investigation team that they had instructed him to buy a mobile phone and that they would be back to get the number.

He claimed he had no choice, and they told him he would fly to Dieppewas given €4,000 to finance the trip.

Detective Sergeant Cummins agreed that the investigation did not corroborate the series of events outlined by Gilchrist.

The flight took three and a half hours, and there were no customs officers at the Dieppe aerodrome, where the plane only spent a short time.

The GNDOCB officer agreed with Judge Johnson that the procedures in Abbeyshrule were the same, and likewise, it was a "complete open corridor."

He said there were spot checks, but generally, flights were logged, and pilots were required to declare their trips.

Judge Johnson described that as "extraordinary."

Gilchrist had been in Dieppe for 24 hours before returning. When caught, he had his personal phone and a second one with just two contacts.

The second phone was bought "solely for use in communication for the importation."

He admitted it was the primary phone for contacting people not before the court. It was bought in June 2022 and unused until August 3, when he flew to France.

Analysis of the phone showed Gilchrist was sending and receiving messages from people around the aerodrome in Longford shortly before landing. One said, "A lot of guys around, be careful."

Gardai also recovered receipts for his hotel in France and fuel for the aircraft.

Detective Sergeant Cummins believed Gilchrist's story was "fanciful" and that he had done "almost identical trips" before.

Gilchrist claimed he was helping the plane's pilot build up flying hours, and the court heard there had been six known flights.

Gilchrist admitted he enjoyed leisure flying and tried to convince gardai that "he was placed under duress by others when they became aware of his flying leisure activities."

He also spoke about his interests in the meat industry in Uganda and a restaurant with his partner there.

The court heard he worked in Ireland for a highway maintenance firm from 2017 to 2020, after which he received €208 a week in illness benefit social welfare payments.

Detective Sergeant Cummins agreed with Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, that his client's guilty plea was valuable.

In a mitigation, Mr O'Higgins said his client had one child and lived at a very modest home he inherited, and there was no suggestion he had an excessive lifestyle.

Mr O'Higgins said his client appeared to be "something of a Walter Mitty character".

Counsel asked the judge to note that a hierarchy was always involved in setting up this kind of case.

The person caught carrying the drugs was the weakest link in the chain and the most expendable. Saving the contacts in his phone under two names also suggested a lack of sophistication, he submitted.

"The persons who own the drugs have several layers of protection. While An Garda Siochana are aware who they are, they are not in a position to bring them before the court," Mr O'Higgins said.

"In relation to the use of the aerodrome, it is an open corridor exploited by others significantly higher up the chain," he said in further pleas for leniency.

He also asked the judge to consider his client was remorseful and ashamed. Gilchrist never applied for bail and had been in custody on remand since the date of his arrest.

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