Cannabis ‘gardeners’ spared jail

TWO men have been spared jail for their part in running a cannabis farm with the potential to raise £120,000 a year.

Hartlepool men Craig Hull, 27, and Mark Thompson, 26, were paid £150 a week to tend the illegal crop that was being grown in steel containers on farmland in County Durham.

Eight containers were used for the cannabis farm which had a potential yield of £120,000 a year and at least one crop had already been harvested, Teesside Crown Court was told.

Prosecuting, Jonnie Walker said vehicle recognition checks and fingerprints led police to the pair.

When police approached the containers in September 2010 in a small dell on Hilton Moor Farm, at Evenwood Gate, near Bishop Auckland, they could hear an electric fan and there was a strong smell of cannabis.

There were cannabis plants in four containers and six containers were fully insulated, with lighting and water tanks.

There were fans in the roof space and a large amount of insulation had been delivered to the site.

Mr Walker said the farm could have five crops a year and there was evidence that it had been harvested on at least one occasion, possibly twice.

Both men had drug messages on their mobile phones and Hull told police they were offered £150 a week to water the plants every two days.

Thompson said he had a cannabis habit and he admitted visiting the farm and dropping stuff off including fans.

Both pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of cannabis between April and September 2010.

Martin Scarborough, mitigating for Thompson, said that the pair were approached by another man who involved them in taking some equipment, gardening and looking after some of the plants in one container.

Richard Herrmann, mitigating for Hull, said his life had been on hold for 18 months since the raid as police tried unsuccessfully to trace other suspects and his parents had effectively disowned him.

The judge, Recorder David Dobbin, said it was clearly a well-organised, fairly sophisticated production unit for cannabis.

He said: “Both of you, in my view, were the gardeners and set up the equipment in some cases.

“You were being directed by others and you received a small weekly wage for that. There seems to be some indication that you were involved in one of the harvesting of the plants.”

Hull and Thompson, both of Arnold Grove, Hartlepool, were each given a 12-month jail sentence suspended for two years and 150 hours unpaid work.

Hull was also given 18 months’ supervision.