EVIDENCE of a recent “evacuation” of a drug farm was found when police raided a property in a quiet residential street.
Remnants of what appeared to be cannabis leaves were found strewn across the front of the premises, in Hurworth, near Darlington, on March 8.
Officers discovered both bedrooms, at the address in Cedar Mews, appeared to have been devoted to the growth of cannabis, with hydroponic systems set up to heat, water and light plants.
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Durham Crown Court heard that the electricity meter was by-passed to provide free power for the operation.
Paul Newcombe, prosecuting, said 20 minutes later a Renault Megane car, driven by 52-year-old Malcolm Robinson, was stopped in the area.
“A strong smell of cannabis was coming from the car and five bags were found, each containing three mature cannabis plants.
“He said they fell from a van near a tip on Romanby Road and so he picked them up.”
Mr Newcombe said the haul included 695g of skunk cannabis and 620g of cannabis leaf, with a potential total value of £4,750 in sale terms.
In subsequent interviews Robinson said he was paid £200 to collect “stuff”, with, “no questions asked”, but later contradicted himself, before returning to his original explanation.
Robinson, of Kirkgate, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, admitted being concerned in the production of cannabis.
Ian West, mitigating, told the court: “Yes, he was going to be paid for collecting five bags of cannabis plants, but he had no influence on those higher up the chain.
“His role was as the ‘transport man’, a labourer, not someone in control of the operation.
“He was merely getting the drugs from ‘a’ to ‘b’ as a dog’s body.
“In terms of the hierarchy of the operation, he falls at the bottom of the pecking order.”
Mr West added that although he has “significant” convictions on his record, Robinson has kept out of trouble for ten years.
Recorder Stephen Jackson told Robinson: “You were undertaking to transfer five bags of cannabis and you would have been in no doubt that this was a substantial operation.”
He imposed a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, during which Robinson must perform 250-hours’ unpaid work.
Robinson will also be subject to a four-month, 8pm - 7am electronically-monitored home curfew.