Northern Ireland

Bereaved mother meets justice minister to call for tougher sentences for drug dealers

Naomi Long says she has written to the Lady Chief Justice highlighting Pauline Duddy’s campaign

Jasmin died in February last year, after taking pregabalin and other substances
Jasmin’s was one of a number of deaths in the north west last year from a so-called 'bad batch' of pregabalin

A woman who lost her daughter to a drug overdose has met with Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long to call for tougher punishments for dealers.

Pauline Duddy’s daughter Jasmin (21) was found dead with the drug pregabalin in her system in February last year.

Following her death Pauline has been relentlessly campaigning on the issue, launching an online petition and lobbying political figures for tougher punishments for those convicted of supplying drugs.

She recently met Ms Long at Stormont where she voiced her concerns that those convicted of drug related crimes are not receiving anywhere close to the maximum sentence.

“We have the legislation but we don’t have the enforcement,” she said.

“Anyone convicted of supplying drugs can be sentenced 14 years to life, but...most convicted dealers don’t even get two years here. When they’re released they simply pick up where they left off.

“I truly believe imposing these longer sentences will act as a deterrent and they may think twice about dealing again.”

She’s calling for the legal system to adopt “aggravating factors”, the reasons judges use when choosing a sentence higher than the average term, in cases where dealers supply drugs to a vulnerable person.

They include the severity of the crime, vulnerability of the victim, and the history of the defendant.

“Too many young lives are being lost and too many families are suffering,” she added.

“My child isn’t coming back but if my campaign can reduce the drugs on our streets and save just one life then I’ll be happy.”

Ms Long said she shared her concerns and had written to the Lady Chief Justice to make her aware of Pauline’s campaign.

“There is no easy solution, but I have committed to giving consideration to the concerns Pauline raised during the meeting,” said Ms Long.

“These issues cut across the whole of the Executive – justice, health, communities – and collectively we need to find a better way forward.

Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long welcomed the move
Stormont Justice Minister Naomi Long

“Although the Department of Justice is responsible for sentencing policy, sentencing in individual court cases is a matter for the judiciary, which is entirely independent of the department.

“I have written to the Lady Chief Justice to make her aware of Pauline’s campaign.

“Meeting people so directly impacted by these issues helps us learn how the criminal justice system needs to change to better meet the needs of those affected by this widespread scourge on our communities.”

Since 2012, the north has seen deaths due to drug-related causes rise by 98%, from 110 to a peak of 218 in 2020 and to 213 in 2021.

The 2022 total of 154 represents a 40% increase on the number of drug deaths registered a decade ago.

Pauline is also seeking a meeting with Health Minister Mike Nesbitt to discuss help available to those battling addiction.

Appealing for people to support her campaign, the grandmother warned that the scourge of drugs has spread right across the Island.

“All I’m asking for from the public are signatures. To take one minute from your day to sign the petition online or on paper.

“I’ll do all the running around, I’ll arrange the meetings, protests and whatever else is needed to push for change.”