Sometimes, playing dumb can pay off. You probably know someone who knows someone who's been duped by pickpockets on a busy train. That group "asking for directions" in a tourist hotspot can quickly turn into the slick scammers responsible for a wallet disappearing. Gossips at the top of their game feign ignorance to get at the juiciest tidbits. Every now and then, actual naivety can work to your advantage when someone gives you the benefit of the doubt rather than taking the piss.
Take Ellie Milner, from Worcestershire. The 20-year-old was sentenced to more than two years in a youth offenders institution for dealing coke and ketamine, and holding onto a little bit of the drugs for herself. On Thursday, her lawyer Jason Aris argued that she was naive, but largely harmless, after police uncovered texts in which she offered mate's rates and joked about the drugs she had. "She presents as a very articulate and naive and, may I say, stupid young girl," he said. "She was trying to make herself look very cool. A lot of what appears in those messages is her trying to play the big shot in front of people she has become familiar with on the dance scene. In hindsight that was an incredibly stupid thing to do."
Milner was caught out by police, who reportedly had concerns about her dealing drugs. When they searched her car, in a supermarket car park, they found baggies containing white powder in her bag and purse. They nabbed her iPhone, then in a further search of her home found some digital scales tucked into a bottom drawer in her bedroom and a few more baggies of white powder. All in all, she was reported to have less than half a gram each of MDMA, cocaine and ketamine – police estimated the street value of the 303mg of MDMA, 173mg of cocaine 242mg of ket would fetch between £700 and £800.
When officers went through her phone, they found she'd mentioned making a £150 profit, and told friends that she'd "sniffed some of that". What sounded like a pretty basic operation, of the sort where you'd pick up from a friend of a friend who never really seemed like the supplier anyway, landed her in court. Since she didn't have any priors, her defence centred on her clean record and reputation.
"It's very clear that the shame and embarrassment she has not only brought upon herself but her family and employers is a considerable punishment," lawyer Aris said. "This is clearly a very intelligent, outstanding young lady who has made a rather dreadful mistake."
The judge went so far as to note that Milner's references from her employer were "exceptional", but wasn't impressed with texts that showed her seeming to brag about her little drug operation.
"You were advertising cocaine sales and boasting about it and making some profit," the judge said, addressing her before sentencing her. Since Milner had been dealing for a couple of months, and thus this wasn't a one-off, the judge sentenced her to time in an institution, rather than the more lenient option of a suspended sentence. Though Milner was hardly running a sophisticated operation, the judge still deemed the sale of Class As "a scourge on our society".
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A recent case might raise the question of just when selling and moving drugs is considered a threat. Last week, news broke of a 22-year-old undergraduate getting a relatively light sentence for her role in a drug selling operation, done with her brother. Poppy Murray, who the Telegraph reported as being a privately-educated catering businesswoman, had been helping her 19-year-old brother Joel move drugs in Manchester, ferrying MDMA and weed along to her friends. Her brother's picked up a seven-year prison sentence, while Poppy's been given a 12-month sentence, suspended for 18 months, and 80 hours of unpaid work.
Poppy's lawyer, unlike Milner's, argued that drug-taking is a normal part of student life and that his client "did not see anything morally wrong with what she did. However, she now accepts plainly that it was wrong".
"The money was pooled and the drugs were shared," he continued. "A prison sentence would be a punishment but it would do nothing but blight a very bright career. She is a very clever, ambitious and driven young lady." Meanwhile in Barnstaple, a man with substance addiction problems just picked up a two-year prison sentence for dealing heroin on a bike path. If lawyers are using "everyone takes drugs" as a defence, at the very least that ought to implore politicians to think about drug testing and drug safety. In the meantime, not even well-argued naivety was quite enough for Ellie Milner. She has a 28-month sentence ahead of her.
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