Breaking grad Honours student and cathedral worker turned to drug dealing to pay college fees
Peter O’Hare told us he had only turned to dealing cannabis to feed his family after losing his job and to put himself through university where he earned a first class honours degree in radiography.
April 29 2021 11:56 AM
This is Belfast’s ‘Breaking Bad’ couple who turned to dealing drugs on a “commercial scale” to provide for their family.
Despite having a Master’s degree in software design, Peter O’Hare found selling cannabis to his friends and friends of friends much more lucrative – but now he’s behind bars.
And we can reveal his partner Holly Wilson – currently the Head of Commercial Business at St Anne’s Cathedral – was also jailed, though her sentence was suspended.
Last night, the Dean of Belfast Cathedral, Stephen Forde, told the Sunday World: “We are aware of a situation going through the courts and the cathedral is currently following disciplinary procedures and therefore can’t say anything further at this moment.”
This week – just hours before he had to hand himself into prison – Peter O’Hare told us he had only turned to dealing cannabis to feed his family after losing his job and to put himself through university where he earned a first class honours degree in radiography.
But he admitted on his doorstep: “I’ll never be allowed to become a radiographer after this – I think I’ve suffered enough.”
O’Hare started out dealing cannabis to close friends after being made redundant several times and a relationship break-up, but was making so much money that when cops caught him – by pure fluke – he had over £9,000 stashed away in his flat and almost a kilo of weed for sale.
The 30-year-old handed himself into prison authorities on Friday after a judge three days previously had sentenced him to 12 months in jail for dealing cannabis on a “commercial scale”.
His 29-year-old partner Holly Wilson was also convicted of dealing drugs when police discovered she helped run the business when O’Hare was not in.
The unlikely pair of dealers – who ran the business from a posh flat in south Belfast – wept and shook as they sat in their Newtownabbey home as a judge at Antrim Crown Court explained why he had no choice but to send O’Hare to prison.
O’Hare will only have to spend six of those months behind bars but the pair were visibly shocked by the ‘tough’ sentence handed down.
Wilson was also handed a seven-month jail sentence, but her term was suspended for three years.
Incredibly, Wilson has been working for St Anne’s Cathedral for the past four years. After joining in 2017 as the church’s Events and Marketing Manager, she was promoted in August 2019 to Head of Commercial Business.
In an interview in the press at the time, she said how much she loved her job, adding: “Really my role is to help sustain the building because it costs about £1,200 a day – which works out at around £1.41 per minute – to have the cathedral open.”
She also says she loves to spend time with her partner and stepson and family and loves doing crossword puzzles and chilling out.
She even jokes: “I sound so boring! I should say I ride motorbikes or something!”
By then both she and O’Hare had already had their flat raided by police, who stumbled upon their drug dealing operation by accident after witnessing one of their users buying gear from O’Hare.
On Wednesday morning O’Hare told the Sunday World he had fallen into drug dealing after a number of set-backs in his life.
“I started dealing cannabis when I had a number of unfortunate personal set-backs during my twenties which left me in a desperate situation,” said O’Hare.
“I suffered three redundancies and my relationship to my son ended and I felt trapped. I needed some way of making money to help fund my son and hold some sort of family life together.
“At the time I was only doing sales jobs and I turned to selling small amounts of cannabis to friends.”
But O’Hare confirmed he “deeply regretted” his actions.
“The last few years have been very challenging and this has cost me a career as a radiographer, I can never do that job now.
“I have a lot of regrets and deeply regret what I did – but I don’t think I should be going to jail, I’m no danger to society and I think it was unfair for the judge to describe the dealing as being on a commercial scale.
“It really was just to a few friends and it got out of hand but I really don’t think it was commercial.
“I don’t want to say too much about the court process but I do think it was harsh. I have a lot of worry for the future, not just about having to go to prison but also what will happen afterwards when I come out.”
His partner Holly Wilson told the Sunday World she thought the sentence was “very harsh”.
“We are paying for a mistake that was made quite a long time ago and is only coming to court now because of the process,” she said.
“It was devastating when the judge said Peter had to go to jail. It’s so upsetting. We are not drug dealers but that’s what we have a conviction for.”
On Tuesday O’Hare sat with his head in his hands, shoulders shaking while girlfriend Holly wept uncontrollably as Judge Neil Rafferty QC ordered O’Hare to surrender himself to custody on Friday.
“Please, please no,” pleaded Wilson through her tears, but Judge Rafferty told the self-confessed dealers: “I don’t find this job easy at times.
“The difficulty is that everyone else has little sons as well and those little sons sometimes get involved in drugs, buy drugs and sometimes unfortunately they end up dying from these drugs so I apologise for the pain that I have caused but the pain has been caused by the commission of the criminal offences.”
At an earlier hearing Wilson and O’Hare, both from Fairview Crescent in Newtownabbey, pleaded guilty to possessing cannabis with intent to supply on April 18 2019. O’Hare also confessed to supply the class B drug and possessing criminal property on the same date.
Summing up the case during his sentencing remarks, Judge Rafferty outlined how police saw two men “exchanging” an item and suspecting a drug deal had taken place. They stopped one of the males as he left and uncovered a small quantity of cannabis during a search.
That male, said the judge, confirmed he had just bought the drugs so following on from that, the officers searched a property on Ardenlee Court where Wilson and O’Hare lived at the time.
The court heard officers uncovered drugs and cash hidden all over the property amounting to a total of £9,100 in cash and 880 grams of herbal cannabis.
O’Hare’s phone was also seized and Judge Rafferty said it was clear from an examination of the phone that O’Hare had been selling cannabis to a small social circle of friends and acquaintances for just over two years.
When O’Hare was questioned by detectives, he “unburdened his soul” and told cops that having become unemployed, he was “under pressure to provide for his son” from a previous relationship so he used his drug dealing profits for his son and to “put himself through university”.
Describing O’Hare as “clearly an intelligent individual,” the judge revealed that he had a Master’s degree in software design but when he lost his job, he put himself through university and got a first in a radiography degree.
It was that intelligence, said the judge, “which caused belief to be made to beggar that he allowed himself to go down this route” given that his criminal convictions will not cause “great difficulties with entering an NHS setting”.
Wilson was arrested at the same time and Judge Rafferty said it was clear that she became involved due to a “tug on her heartstrings” in that when O’Hare wasn’t there, she would supply the cannabis to customers.
“It’s with great sadness that I categorise this as commercial dealing,” he told the pair, “it may have been to a limited number of friends and trusted fellow users but nevertheless it has all the hallmarks of well-run commercial dealing in Class B drugs.”
While Wilson’s seven-month jail sentence was suspended for three years, Judge Rafferty told O’Hare that because his dealing had been over a “prolonged period of time” on a commercial basis, “I’m satisfied that only an immediate custodial sentence is appropriate.”
Ordering O’Hare to spend six months in jail and six months on supervised licence, the judge said while he had “many admirable factors or characteristics…to some extent he has been the author of his own misfortune”.
Making a destruction order for the drugs, he also ordered that the £9,100 seized in the investigation be donated to drugs charity Addiction NI.
In a 2019 article about her job at Belfast Cathedral, Holly, who manages a small team, describes her career success as a combination of “hard work and a bit of good luck”.