Cannabis grower found hiding in the loft of disused church

A FLOURISHING cannabis farm was uncovered by police in a raid on a disused church building, a court heard.

Officers attending the former Wheatley Hill Methodist Church, in Dodds Terrace, on May 20 believed there were plans afoot to extend the growth areas, with new lighting and watering equipment barely out of their packaging about to be put in place.

Durham Crown Court was told overseeing the growth and installation of the equipment was electrician Paul McAllister, who was found hiding in the roof space.

Shaun Dryden, prosecuting, said 72 mature cannabis plants and 99 pots containing stalks, were in the ground floor area, fitted with lighting, extractor fans, transformers and cooling fans.

A further 70 plants in varying stages of growth were found in the first-floor area with 61 mature plants being hung up to dry, while eight kilograms of cannabis flowering material was in a cardboard box alongside 14 plastic bags each containing a kilo of dried cannabis.

Mr Dryden said it appeared to be, “a large-scale commercial cultivation”, with plants grown from seed capable of three crops a year to be bagged for bulk distribution to mid-level dealers.

He said the potential value of the seized cannabis could be as high as £287,000, with the equipment seized costing an estimated £9,300.

McAllister, whose Mercedes car was parked outside the old church, was arrested and made admissions, telling police he ran his own electrical business which fell into difficulties earlier in the year, and so, in February, he agreed to do a wiring job, which saw him taken from his home town of Oldham in Greater Manchester, to Wheatley Hill.

Having rewired the building he agreed to tend to the plants daily and cropped them for colection by others.

The 43-year-old defendant, of Ripponden Road, Oldham, admitted producing cannabis and abstracting electricity.

Jane Waugh mitigating, said he was of previous good character until he agreed to do electrical work at the church, when it became clear what was going on, but he, “could not see a way out”.

Judge Ray Singh said it was, “a significant operation”, and imposed a 32-month prison sentence. He put in motion crime proceeds proceedings, with a hearing scheduled in November. He also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the seized plants and paraphernalia.

The Northern Echo | Durham