SHEFFIELD’S top judge has warned criminals caught growing cannabis they will go to prison – even if it is their first offence.
The Recorder of Sheffield, Judge Alan Goldsack QC, sentenced four defendants to a total of seven years and nine months behind bars for producing the Class B drug.
At Sheffield Crown Court, he said the number of such cases had become increasingly prevalent but many defendants were unaware they would go to prison immediately, even if it was their first appearance in court and they had no previous convictions.
Judge Goldsack told one defendant: “Six out of the 14 cases on my list this morning involve producing cannabis on various scales.
“As you are now aware, but the public probably isn’t, earlier this year there was a guideline case at the Court of Appeal saying that sentences for these very prevalent and always premeditated offences should be higher than they had hitherto been and should always result in immediate imprisonment unless there are exceptional circumstances.”
Among those sent to prison were property developer Matthew Whitehead, aged 43, of Wigtwizzle, Bradfield.
He was jailed for three years and nine months after the court heard skunk cannabis worth £94,000 was found in the garage loft space of the £1m listed barn he was renovating in Cawthorne, Barnsley.
The court was told his plans to renovate and sell the property had been hit by the recession and, owing £1m to family and friends, he accepted a drug dealer’s offer of £5,000 a month to grow cannabis.
He was in “dire financial straits” and had no previous convictions.
Also jailed were Kevin Slater, aged 43, of Coltfield, Birdwell, Barnsley, who was given three years for possessing cocaine with intent to supply, producing cannabis and possessing a Class C drug with intent to supply.
His cannabis plants were found in the loft during a police raid at a property in Wisewood.
Stuart Brown, aged 40, of Hay Green Lane, Birdwell, Barnsley, was jailed for six months for producing eight cannabis plants.
Delroy Behan, aged 25, of Wellington Street, Goldthorpe, Barnsley, was jailed for six months for production of cannabis.
Police found cannabis-growing paraphenalia in the attic of the home he shared with partner Lisa Parton, aged 35.
She admitted allowing her home to be used for the production of cannabis and was given a 26-week jail term suspended for a year and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.
Judge Goldsack added: “The law requires that custodial sentences are passed both by way of punishment and hopefully to get the message around to the public that cannabis is a dangerous drug and those who bring it into existence must be punished.”
Det Supt Richard Fewkes, who is in charge of South Yorkshire Police drugs strategy, said there had been a steady increase in the cultivation and production of the drug. Over the last five years his officers had seized cannabis with a street value of over £40m.
He added: “It’s very difficult to hide the fact you are cultivating cannabis, even on a small scale.”