ACT News

Canberra restaurateur with $1200-a-day drug habit may have less than five years to live

John Phillip Harrington leaves the ACT Magistrates Court in 2011.
John Phillip Harrington leaves the ACT Magistrates Court in 2011. Photo: Gary Schafer

A well-known Canberra restaurateur who imported cocaine to help fuel his $1200-a-day drug habit could have less than five years to live, a court has been told.

John Phillip Harrington, 63, was arrested in July 2011 after he was found with more than 258 grams of cocaine following a trip to the United States.

Harrington originally pleaded not guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court to importing a marketable quantity of cocaine and drug trafficking.He was committed to the higher court for trial but plans for a trial were abandoned after Harrington pleaded guilty to the two offences in March this year.

He has since been in police custody at the Alexander Maconochie Centre as he awaits sentencing.

Harrington appeared in the ACT Supreme Court for a hearing on Friday. 

The court was told Harrington became addicted to cocaine "later in life" and at one stage used up to $1200 worth of the drug every day.

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He never sold it but would use it himself or offer it to young women at parties while he was "being gregarious" and "big noting", he said.

He said he would pay about $6000 per ounce (about 28 grams) and "never had any trouble paying for it". 

Harrington told the court he had financed his habit through the Canberra brasserie he owned at the time, Charlie Black.

The business was "quite successful", Harrington said, but he "destroyed it with my habit".

Harrington said he had contributed $10,000 to a total of $42,000 he and another person took overseas to pay for the cocaine.

He said the rest of the money came from "other businesspeople", who he declined to name, and he was to receive 15 per cent of the drug haul.

Harrington's defence lawyer, John Purnell, said his client had been treated for bowel cancer, which had since spread to his liver, and he was due to start another round of chemotherapy. 

Mr Purnell said doctors had indicated there was only a 40 to 60 per cent chance Harrington would survive the next five years due to his illness.

He asked that any sentence allow his client to be home for his father's 89th birthday in December.

The court was told Harrington was the primary carer for his elderly parents until his bail was revoked in March.

Harrington said if he was released from custody he would spend whatever time he had left looking after his parents and working in the restaurant industry.

He said he regretted the effect his addiction and the publicity surrounding his arrest had on his family.

"I'm very sorry for what I've done and I'm willing to accept whatever comes."

When Commonwealth prosecutor Katrina Musgrove asked Harrington whether he was sorry for what he did, or sorry he got caught, he said: "I'm sorry for what I've done. It was stupid."

Ms Musgrove said while the court should take Harrington's health concerns into account, it should also consider the objective seriousness of the offences and the need for general deterrence. 

"There shouldn't be any greater leniency in the sentence due to his ill health," she said. 

Justice John Burns reserved his decision and will sentence Harrington in November.