Drugs grown to pay off loan sharks

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A DEBT-ridden 62-year-old was forced to turn his home into a £60,000 cannabis farm by loan sharks.

When police raided Robert Routledge’s house in Stockton Street, Hartlepool, they found 209 plants, expensive equipment and also that the electricity meter had been bypassed.

He stayed tight-lipped when detectives asked him why he was growing the drug after saying he did not use it.

But in a pre-sentence report handed to Judge Peter Armstrong at Teesside Crown Court, he confided to a probation officer that he had been forced to grow the plants by criminals he would not name.

He said he had a debt of £17,000 and was struggling to pay it off.

Routledge admitted producing a class B drug and abstracting electricity following the raid on September 28 last year.

Jacqueline Edwards, prosecuting, said: “He accepted in interview that he had acted as a “gardener”.

“He kept giving no comment but said it had only been there for four or five weeks.

“When asked why he was growing it, he said he had a debt and it was the only way he knew to get out of it.”

Judge Peter Armstrong accepted Routledge was “under duress” but said “two wrongs do not make a right”.

He sentenced Routledge to nine months in prison, suspended for two years with 12 months supervision, adding: “I believe the account you gave probation as the correct one and the prosecution do not seek to disprove it.

“Under duress, you allowed your property to be used by others and you were simply letting them get on with it.”

Paul Cleasby, mitigating, said the debt was from a car crash in which his vehicle was not insured.

Mr Cleasby added: “He takes an honourable approach to his debts and tries to pay them off, but it means he is always short of money.

“He got money from a loan shark at a ridiculous rate of interest and he became the focus of their interests. Effectively he allowed them to turn his home into this cannabis farm.”