A BUSINESSMAN who repairs roofs of victims of rogue traders for free has described his “year of hell” after being caught up in a cannabis operation.
Kevin Smith has been hauled through the courts for the last 12 months after a £22,000 cannabis farm was discovered at a factory unit he had rented out on the Park View Industrial Estate, in Hartlepool.
The 54-year-old, who has no criminal convictions, has raised thousands for charity and is often called by police to help repair jobs carried out by cowboy builders.
He rented out his unit during last year’s harsh winter to another business in an attempt to cut down on his outgoings.
He kept his own materials in an adjacent unit, but became suspicious when he smelled cannabis coming from the premises next door.
But rather than reporting the matter to police, Smith simply warned his tenants that he wanted the drugs removed.
However, police received a tip-off suggesting cannabis plants were being grown in the unit, and as Smith was the lease-holder, he was held responsible.
Smith pleaded guilty to allowing a premises to be used for the production of cannabis on February 16, last year.
He pleaded guilty on the basis of sub-letting the premises and that he told the person to stop growing the farm shortly before a police raid.
The father-of-four, from Thornbury Close in Hartlepool, broke down in tears in the dock when a Teesside Crown Court judge sentenced him to an 18-month community order with 180 hours unpaid work and £300 costs for the offence.
Prosecutor Oliver Thorne said police raided Smith’s premises and unit 31A was a working office but 31B contained 85 cannabis plants, 54 cuttings, four large “mother” plants, transformers, lights and £400 in a cash box was recovered.
He added: “The productive value was £22,000 and it’s understood that if the plants had grown to their full yield of 3.4kg the value could have been £34,000.”
Mr Thorne said an officer in the case described it as “the most sophisticated cannabis factory he has seen in 15 years’ service”.
Jim Withyman, mitigating, handed Judge Howard Crowson newspaper cuttings featuring Smith’s good work in the community and said: “When elderly people are ripped off when their roof needs repairing, the police contact Mr Smith and he goes and repairs their roofs for nothing.
“He also does charity work in the local area.”
He added that Smith understood the unit to be used for vehicle-spraying and said it was only after returning from the Christmas period that he smelled the plants.
He said: “He saw what was going on and asked them to remove it.
“He said again in February ‘I want this out or I’m going to the police’.
“Shortly after that there was an anonymous telephone call to the police and he was raided.”
Judge Crowson told Smith: “You have been a hard-working man for the good of the community and are really entitled to say ‘I’m an asset to the community’.
“But when you let that property you thought you were doing it for a proper purpose.”
An emotional Smith, who has raised thousands for local causes Hartlepool Baby Bereavement Support Group and Hartlepool and District Hospice, told the Mail after the hearing: “It’s been a year of hell.
“It’s affected my health and I’ve had stress problems.
“The only mistake I made was telling them to get it out and not telling the police.
“Now my reputation’s going to look tarnished all because I trusted these people.
“I just want to put it all behind me.”