A DEVOTED dad was forced into producing drugs in the garage of his family home as he battled to keep rogue money lenders at bay.
Train driver Stephen Sim, of Seaburn, fell behind on repayments on his £1,200 loan and ended up owing £12,000 to the crooked lenders.
As he struggled to meet the mounting repayments, Sim, who had never been in trouble before, was threatened and even beaten up in his home.
As a last resort – with no prospect of ever paying the loan off – the 41-year-old agreed his garage could be turned into a cannabis factory in a bid to reduce the debt.
But police soon discovered the set-up and Sim pleaded guilty to cannabis production.
At Newcastle Crown Court yesterday, prosecutors accepted that Sim, of Deepdene Road, had been forced into getting involved in the drug trade.
Judge Michael Cartlidge sentenced Sim to a two-year community order with supervision.
He said the interest Sim was being charged was more than 100 per cent.
The judge added: “In these troubled times, when we are all short of funds, there is temptation to take out a small loan, and look what happens: in no time at all it is doubled, trebled, quadrupled.”
Jamie Adams, defending, said Sim fell behind with his mortgage payments when he was off work grieving, after the deaths of his parents and his brother.
To help with the arrears he turned to loansharks for £1,200, which grew to a £12,000 debt he would never be able to settle.
Mr Adams said: “The only way he could pay it off, they said, was to allow the equipment to be installed in his garage.”
Judge Cartlidge warned that those who become involved in the production of the Class B drug can usually expect to receive a prison sentence.
But he told Sim: “I will take an exceptional course in this exceptional case, where the prosecution accept the background as being true.”
The court heard Sim still owes the £12,000 and will probably be held responsible for the loss of the loanshark’s expensive cannabis growing equipment, which has been confiscated by the court.
Judge Cartlidge told him: “I offer you some warnings, I don’t know if these people will just forget about this loan.
“My recommendation to you is not to be a continuing victim, do something about it, if you value your family and your children then take steps to protect yourself.
“There are state officials who will help protect you.”