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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK


UK

Suspended sentence for drug peer

The earl was exposed in a Sunday newspaper

Tory peer Lord Hardwicke and his former business partner Stefan Thwaites have walked free from court, despite being convicted of cocaine dealing.

They were given suspended sentences, totaling three years three months, after the jury at London's Blackfriars Crown Court condemned the undercover journalistic tactics used to snare them.


[ image: The earl intends to appeal against conviction]
The earl intends to appeal against conviction
The six-day trial was told that the Earl of Hardwicke, 29, snorted cocaine in front of a secret camera set up by undercover News of the World journalists at the Savoy Hotel.

The Crown said that the next day the peer handed cocaine to the newspaper's investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, who posed as a wealthy Arab businessman.

Lord Hardwicke was suspended from the House of Lords after the newspaper report.

His solicitor Nicola Finnerty said the earl would be appealing against the conviction on the grounds that the "prosecution was an abuse of the courts process".

'Extreme provocation'

The jury unanimously found Hardwicke guilty of one count of being concerned in the supply of 2.44 grams of cocaine to Mr Mahmood on 2 September last year.

They also convicted him of supplying 1.49 grams of the class A drug to the journalist a day later.


[ image: Tactics used on Lawrence Dallaglio sparked row over press behaviour]
Tactics used on Lawrence Dallaglio sparked row over press behaviour
Thwaites, also 29, who had helped him run a south London scooter franchise, was found guilty of supplying the 2.44 grams.

In delivering their verdict, the jurors said had the law been different they would have cleared the two men because of the "extreme provocation" from the reporters.

But in a statement the News of the World said hard drugs were among "the greatest social evils in Britain today".

And the paper said it had "no hesitation in investigating and exposing ruthless and habitual drug peddlers who break the law with arrogant impunity, threaten society and bring misery and death to their victims."

The judge ruled that the two years received by Hardwicke and the 15 months given to Thwaites would both be suspended for two years.

But he said that had it not been for the jury's plea and the way the men were entrapped, they would have been looking at up to four years in jail.

Their crimes were, he said, the result of a "carefully planned piece of subterfuge" designed to "ensnare" the men in the act of supplying cocaine.

His ruling could reignite the debate over the conduct of the press. Their tactics were put under the microscope following allegations of drug use by former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio.

Earlier, in mitigation, Alun Jones QC branded Mr Mahmood an "impulsive and malicious liar".

He said the conduct of Mr Mahmood and the editorial policy of the News of the World involved "serious breaches of the criminal law".

"I submit that it is something that has got to be examined more widely," he added.

Hardwicke was also ordered to pay 2000 towards prosecution costs, as well as meet a 320 confiscation order.

Similar orders of 1400 and 200 respectively were made against Thwaites.



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