A JUDGE hit out at drug bosses he said are preying on users to set up a host of small cannabis farms to escape the full weight of the law.
Judge Peter Bowers, who recently caused national controversy by calling a burglar “brave” and spared a Hartlepool pervert jail because he would suffer inside, spoke out when a town cannabis gardener appeared in front of him.
Scott Mills, 29, was caught growing 32 skunk cannabis plants in his loft in May last year.
Teesside Crown Court heard the plants could produce an estimated £29,000 of drugs.
But the court was told Mills got caught up in the operation after he got into debt with his cannabis supplier.
Judge Bowers said: “The real fear is what we have here is the supplier who’s preying upon people with little or no previous convictions and distributing around the area a number of small cannabis farms letting them (the gardener) take the can and they are always afraid to name this person, and as a result he escapes and carries on the business.”
Judge Bowers also said it was “remarkable” how many farms with between 20 to 30 plants the court sees since new sentencing guidelines were introduced which class them as a small-scale operation.
Mills, who has no previous convictions, admitted to production of a class B drug and abstracting electricity.
In a basis of plea he said: “I got into debt with a dealer of some £300. He suggested I grow cannabis for him for three months.
“This man brought all the equipment and bypassed the electricity and told me how to water and care for the plants.
“I was the gardener for this dealer.”
He said he was going to keep three ounces of cannabis and hand the rest over to the dealer.
The court heard Mills, who is married, has now given up cannabis and has got a job in health and safety.
He has also paid back around £700 to his electricity company for power illegally abstracted.
Jim Withyman, mitigating, said: “This is a man who has had his brush with the law. It has been a terrifying experience.
“He has, in the last 11 months, got back to being the man he was before he got involved in this cannabis grow.”
Mills, of Miller Crescent, Hartlepool, was given eight months prison suspended for 18 months and 200 hours unpaid work.
Judge Bowers said: “Unfortunately, this is the sort of case which we are seeing on a regular basis as a pattern and I’m quite satisfied that you were targeted by the dealer as a soft option.
“He gets you into debt and then suggests a way out of that debt. What saves you from going to prison today is your lack of any previous convictions at all.”