Cannabis farms were in the news yet again last week.

Eastleigh, Hampshire

Police found over 500 cannabis plants at a business property on Renown Close in Eastleigh, Hampshire, on Tuesday April 5 2022. Eastleigh district commander Chief Inspector Marcus Cator declared that this was in response to someone grassing. He added that there would probably be a large police presence in the area for the next few days. No arrests were made.

Cannabis farms were in the news last week, as they so often are. Photo: Don Goofy

Cannabis farms were in the news last week, as they so often are. Photo: Don Goofy

”Local residents will think it’s just a bit of cannabis and that this is not a big issue, but…”

Chief Inspector Cator continued, “We are aware that local residents will think it’s just a bit of cannabis and that this is not a big issue,” but organised crime gangs would probably run an operation of this size, likely engaging in “very serious violence” using weapons that could even be firearms. They might also exploit vulnerable people in such ways as “making them work in servitude.” He made the valid point that cannabis farms can be “a huge fire risk,” but this was not true on this occasion: nobody had interfered with the building’s electrical supply in any way.

Sunderland, Durham

Police officers called at Piers View House Student Accommodation on Roker Avenue in Sunderland slightly before 17:30 on the same day. They were responding to someone grousing about a cannabis farm on the property. When they entered the building, they came upon “a substantial amount” of cannabis plants. There were, again, no arrests.

Convictions

The rest of last week’s cannabis farm news was about convictions. Five Albanian men were arrested in November 2021 when police raided a 10-bedroom property in Barnfield Hill, Exeter, that used to be a student house but was later turned into a cannabis farm. Every room was employed in the growing of cannabis, which began in the summer. Police recovered various growing equipment.

An unparalleled effort to steal electricity

Engineers from Western Power proclaimed that they had never seen such a sophisticated effort to steal electricity. The driveway had even been dug up to connect cables to the main electricity supply.

It was worth around £3 million a year

Police released photographs of the property. It would have returned around £3 million a year. The value of the equipment used was estimated at £16,000 to £27,000. Pesticides, plant food and soil were valued at about £5,000.

Sentences

Three members of the gang received prison sentences a week before: Osman Hakorja, 31, got three-and-a-half years, Geraldo Mali, 25, got 10 months and Mohamed Troci, 27, got 16 months, which, with his being of no fixed abode, might have been an improvement. The last two, 41-year-old Sajmir Mata and 26-year-old Zurafat Lika, were now each sentenced to two years and three months.

Mata was present in the United Kingdom illegally, having arrived on a lorry. He was the principal gardener. Monitored phone messages translated from Albanian showed that he knew of the lifecycle of the plants and how to treat them. The beak described him as “the principal gardener with great expertise.” Lika was legally in the country and wished to undertake legitimate work but resorted to criminality to pay off debts. He moved between Exeter and London, making purchases and ensuring that everything was running smoothly. They did not direct operations but played important parts. Investigating officer DC Tracey Stafford called this “one of the biggest commercial productions of cannabis in Devon and Cornwall.”

Eldsters found guilty

The last two tales involved people in their 60s. On Thursday April 7, two sons and their parents got sentenced. They had been part of an 11-strong gang from Mexborough and Rotherham that had cannabis farms at properties across South Yorkshire.

Who led this gang?

The head of the gang was Robert Coward, 39, of Telson Close, Swinton, Rotherham. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to produce cannabis from February 2010 to February 2018 and conspiring to acquire and convert criminal propery from April 2010 to April 2016.

Who else was there?

Coward’s parents, Michael, 68, and Lynn, 66, of Toll Bar Road, Swinton, pleaded guilty to conspiring to acquire and convert criminal property over the same period as their son. They were the occupiers of a property, Lynn’s Chippy on Main Street, where they permitted the production of cannabis. Their other son, Thomas, 37, of St Margaret’s Drive, Swinton, pleaded guilty to conspiring to produce cannabis from February 2010 to February 2018. Growing equipment was found in his vehicle. He was also found guilty of tax evasion, having an undeclared income of £43,929. The judge termed it “a business for close members of the family”. He elaborated, “The term ‘cottage industry’ fails to capture the true value of the conspiracy.”

Sentences

Robert Coward was banged up for three years and nine months, Thomas got 46 weeks and Michael 33 weeks. Lynn was in tears. The judge accepted that she provided “hands-on-care” to five of her 11 grandchildren, and, had she been jailed, they would have been affected. She got 22 weeks of custody suspended for 18 months and is subject to a 22-week curfew.

Another eldster

62-year-old Elizabeth Marshall set up a £6,000 drug operation for her personal use during 2021’s Covid lockdown. Her crime came to light when fire broke out in the garage of her home in Penicuik, Midlothian, on October 17 2021. Firefighters found her cannabis farm and told police.

There were 10 plants inside a large tent alongside growing equipment that included air filters, fans, lights and a water pump. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Friday April 8. Her barrister, Murray Robertson, remarked that she had succumbed to “lockdown madness” and used cannabis in the same way others coped with “wine or food.” Marshall paid about £1,000 for hydroponic equipment she purchased over the internet.

The sheriff asserted that Marshall’s offence “would normally attract a custodial sentence,” but he took pity on her because she had fostered over 400 children, had no previous convictions and was of “good character until this matter.” She will have to undertake 160 hours of unpaid work.

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