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HMA v Heather McKenzie


Feb 23, 2023

At the High Court in Glasgow today, Judge David Young KC sentenced Heather McKenzie to 75 and a half months' imprisonment after she pled guilty to being concerned in the supply of a class A drug. She was also sentenced to 21 and a half months' imprisonment for being concerned in the supply of a class C drug, and 16 months' imprisonment for supplying mobile telephones in prison. The sentences will run concurrently.

On sentencing, Judge David Young KC said:

"You pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of drugs over a period of nearly 8 months. Three types of drugs were involved. This includes supply of cocaine, a class A drug.

The damage to communities caused by drug abuse is well known. But this particular offence is aggravated by several factors.

The drugs were supplied into Shotts prison. Drugs in prison cause additional problems. They cause power struggles and violence in a closed environment. This is dangerous for prisoners and their families. It is also dangerous for the prison staff. It makes their difficult job far harder.

You will have been well aware of this because you were a serving prison officer at the time. You were trusted to maintain safety of inmates and staff and to help prisoners progress towards release. Many prisoners simply want to avoid trouble and complete their sentences. Instead, you used your trusted position to supply drugs that undermine the prison regime.

You breached the faith placed in you by the service, and the confidence and reliance of your colleagues 

What is more, after bringing these items into prison you visited a prisoner who was reluctant to continue storing prohibited items. You persuaded him to continue his involvement. You only had access to him because of your trusted position.

In addition, the final charge is of providing mobile phones and SIM cards to a serving prisoner. The high monetary value of mobile phones in prison shows how serious this is. In a prison, phones can be used to organise criminal behaviour. It appears that these phones were used to organise the items you supplied. Shotts is a Category A prison. It holds prisoners with links to organised crime and violence. Phones can also be used to threaten and intimidate people outside the prison.

As a prison officer you will have known all of this. Yet you chose repeatedly to act in this way, and were apparently paid for doing so.

In the whole circumstances of this case, I see no alternative to a significant prison sentence. In addition to punishing you, this sentence should deter others from acting the same way. It is necessary to reassure the prison service and the public that officers who breach the trust placed in them will receive a sentence that reflects society’s disapproval.

I start with charge (1), concerning the class A drug. In assessing your culpability, a major factor is your abuse of a position of trust. The extent of this is shown by your decision to visit the prisoner who had decided to stop his involvement. You told him, as a prison officer that his cell would not be searched and that he would not be caught. This breach of trust demonstrates a higher level of culpability.

In terms of the harm caused, I accept that the amount of drugs actually recovered was not especially high. However, it is plain that this was not the full quantity supplied over the period. It is clear that supply had been going on for months. The fact that supply was into a prison shows that the harm would be significant.

Those are the aggravating factors. I also consider mitigation. I have read the report and listened carefully to what has been said on your behalf today, which has clarified some matters in the report.

As you are a former prison officer, it comes as little surprise that you are a first offender. You have two children for whom you have been the sole carer. You are well aware of that they will be affected by these events. I note that you have acted responsibly and have made arrangements for their care during your incarceration. This will help to reduce the inevitable effects on them resulting from your offending.

You currently suffer physical difficulties from a later accident, and I am told that your mental health has been affected by your involvement in this incident. You are assessed as being at low risk of reoffending.

I understand that you feel that you may have been targeted and manipulated into becoming involved. However, this is not unusual in drug supply. You have accepted that you received payment for your involvement. You also acknowledge, rightly, that in your position you could have reported matters and stopped your involvement. You did not do so.

In all of these circumstances, if you had not pleaded guilty I would have imposed a custodial sentence of seven years imprisonment for charge (1). That is 84 months. You pleaded guilty at the stage of trial, and a discount will be allowed for this to 75.5 months.

In respect of charges (3) and (4), which concern class C drugs, the sentences would be 24 months custody, but are reduced to 21.5 months for the plea.

Finally, in respect of charge (6), the supply of mobile telephones, the sentence would be 18 months custody. This will be reduced to 16 months for the plea

The sentences for all charges will run concurrently."