Drugs death family hit out at court

THE heartbroken family of an overdose victim has slammed the legal system for “sending out the wrong message” after a man convicted of supplying heroin was told he would not stand trial over further drugs charges.

THE heartbroken family of an overdose victim has slammed the legal system for “sending out the wrong message” after a man convicted of supplying heroin was told he would not stand trial over further drugs charges.

The case against David Byrne, of Bury St Edmunds, has collapsed after a crown court judge ruled he would not face a trial over charges relating to the supply of heroin.

It had been alleged the 38-year-old supplied two quantities of the Class A drug to Kevin Wheeler, who died on March 25 last year of an overdose.

Byrne was at the centre of controversy last April when he served just three hours in custody after pleading guilty to supplying the drug to the 36-year-old, from Ingham, once.


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And Judge David Goodin, sitting at Ipswich Crown Court on Friday, ruled Byrne, of Tayfen Road, would not stand trial for allegedly supplying Mr Wheeler with a second quantity.

The family of Mr Wheeler's widow, Maria, last night spoke of their heartache at the decision, and said they felt they had once again been let down by the judicial system.

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“Maria is heartbroken over the decision - it has just been one thing after another,” said a spokesman for the family. “This has completely sent out the wrong message to people.

“It is not the police's fault. All the problems have started since he (Byrne) went to the magistrates court last year and given just a small sentence. We have been waiting for him to appear in court again.”

The spokesman said they had been told by police that he could face up to six years in prison if convicted.

Chip Somers, project manager for Bury-based drug and alcohol treatment charity Focus, said: “My thoughts do go to the family of Mr Wheeler - family members are often the forgotten ones in the sorry saga of drug addiction.

“The trouble is that there are tremendous inconsistencies with drug sentencing across the country. There definitely needs to be greater consistency although in every case, legal ramifications make certain sentences more appropriate than others.

“But speaking generally, I would always like to see a degree of flexibility from judges in sentencing people to treatment and not custody when they show remorse and want help.”

At Ipswich Crown Court on Friday, Byrne faced two charges of supplying heroin - to Mr Wheeler and to a second person, Heather Bennett.

However, following legal argument, Judge Goodin ruled that it would not be fair for Byrne to face a trial, which had been scheduled for next month.

“In a press release in April last year (from the Crown Prosecution Service), it is very clear he would not be tried for the second supply,” he said. “It cannot, in those circumstances, be fair to try him for the circumstances of the second supply.”

He was then told by prosecutor Peter Fenn that Ms Bennett's whereabouts were unknown, and no evidence was being offered in relation to that matter.

Mr Wheeler's death, and the subsequent sentence of Byrne, led to a public outcry last year with community leaders calling for a judicial review into the matter.

Byrne was ordered by Sudbury magistrates to remain in police cells until the court rose and it is believed he served less than three hours in custody.

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