Gang turned house into cannabis farm

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THREE men have been jailed after a family home was turned into a £11,000 cannabis farm.

Officers found a crop of 58 plants, together with lighting and growing materials, in the basement during a raid at the terraced house at Matamba Terrace, Millfield, Sunderland.

Newcastle Crown Court heard that apart from the illegal haul, very little else was found inside the house during the search in December 2010.

Prosecutor Geoff Mason told the court: “A cannabis farm was found in the basement, which comprised 58 individual plants together with related growing equipment.

“The most significant importance in this particular case is the fact the premises were described as a dwelling house, but the kitchen had no means of cooking or washing.

“Basically there were no signs of any residence there, apart from a mattress on the floor in one of the bedrooms and a couple of armchairs in one of the other rooms.

“Police said when they looked in the cupboards there was nothing to sustain life, no food or anything of that sort.”

Anthony Laybourne, 28, of Berwick Square, Town End Farm, admitted the house was his and said he had been “prevailed upon” to allow it to be used to grow the cannabis while he was living elsewhere.

Philip Nelson, 40, of Canon Cockin Street, Hendon, admitted he was the “nightwatchman” who would take care of the plants in return for food.

Paul Gill, 27, of Noble Street, Hendon, also admitted involvement in the illegal operation.

All three had pleaded guilty to being involved in the production of cannabis.

Judge James Goss jailed Laybourne and Gill, who both have previous convictions for drugs offences, for 12 months. Nelson was jailed for 10 months.

The judge said: “A lot of the cannabis was for their own use but if anyone wanted it they would supply to others.”

He told the men: “The Court of Appeal has said in these cases it has to be made plain, those who engage in this type of activity will inevitably receive a custodial sentence and that is the sentence I must pass in each of your cases.”

The court heard the crop could have fetched up to £11,000, but there was a chance some or all of the plants could have failed.

Defence barristers said all three men have reduced or stopped taking cannabis since they were arrested.

Twitter: @sunderlandecho