FORMER Hibs striker Garry O’Connor has been ordered to perform 200 hours community service for possession of cocaine and obstructing police from performing their duties.
Mr O’Connor of Dirleton, East Lothian, was found guilty of the offences at Edinburgh Sheriff Court at the beginning of this month and sentence was deferred until today for background reports.
Giving evidence at his trial, two police officers told how they saw a large white Land Rover with four people inside parked in Hope Street Lane on May 14 last year.
PC Andrew Morrow said he saw a man in the back of the vehicle snorting what he thought were drugs and identified that man as O’Connor.
PC Katherine Eager said she went to speak to the footballer and could see “white powder” and a rolled up £20 note beside him. She added that O’Connor told them his name was Johnstone, but when asked to spell it he began to spell “J.O.S”. He then pushed PC Eager and ran away only to be stopped by other officers a short distance away. He was found in possession of cocaine with a street value of £460.
Sheriff Derrick McIntyre told O’Connor’s defence agent, Greg Farrell, that half an ounce of cocaine was “quite a lot”. Mr Farrell replied: “I don’t think there is anything to suggest it went beyond simple possession”. He added: “He is a young man, who given his profession had a lot of money and a lot of attention. He is now 29 and should know a lot better.”
The case, he said had been damaging for O’Connor personally and professionally. “He recognises he is a role model for young people and a drugs charge is particularly damaging in his capacity as a role model”.
Mr Farrell said there was very little chance of O’Connor re-offending in this manner. He had no analogous convictions. The case hanging over his client had had an impact on him and his family and was potentially very serious for his future profession.
Telling the Sheriff that O’Connor was willing to undertake any court order, Mr Farrell said his client “has prospects of employment firth of this jurisdiction”. He added: “It sounds like a firm offer to me and he is confident it is going to be concluded”.
Neither O’Connor nor his legal representative would make any comment at the end of the proceedings. There have, however, been reports that he might be going back to Russia. He played for Lokomotiv Moscow after being transferred for £1.6 million after his first period with the Edinburgh club.
Sentencing O’Connor, Sheriff McIntyre told him that both the offences of which he had been found guilty were imprisonable for up up to 12 months. He told the footballer that he would have been fully justified in sending him to prison for the possession of the significant amount of the Class A drug. He added: “I would have thought someone in your position, a footballer in the public eye, would have set some example to other people, including your own son”.
The Sheriff continued that as O’Connor had been charged with possession of cocaine and not supply, he was prepared to give him the community alternative to imprisonment. He asked O’Connor if he was willing to obey the Community Payback Order. O’Connor nodded and Sheriff McIntyre asked him “Is that Yes?”. O’Connor replied “Yes”. He was warned that any breach of the order could lead to a jail sentence and advised that any change in his circumstances had to be reported to his supervising officer. The case was transferred to Haddington Sheriff Court.
Earlier this month, O’Connor was acquitted at Haddington Sheriff Court of attempting to defraud the Aviva insurance company of £93,500 by telling them he had crashed his red Ferrari F430 Spider F1 into a deer near Gullane on April 30, 2011. Prosecutors alleged a friend of his had crashed the car into a railway bridge two weeks earlier. The Crown, however, dropped the charges after a Sheriff ruled that a tape recording of an alleged telephone call by O’Connor to Aviva could not be used in court.