A SECRET underground ‘bunker’, used to harvest £25,000 of cannabis, was found in a farmer’s field in Rossendale. The subterranean structure was made using a mechanical digger and a portable building was placed on top of it to conceal a ‘sophisticated growing operation’. Police found 82 skunk plants growing in two specially created rooms entered by a trap door in the floor of the building at Heald Top Farm, in Sharneyford, near Bacup. Burnley Crown Court heard ex-foster carer Louise Ashworth, 44, allowed her land to be used for the sophisticated cannabis growing operation. The hearing was told Ashworth had fostered children for 20 years and had been a well respected member of her community. The defendant had admitted producing cannabis. She was given a community order with 18 months supervision and will face a proceeds of crime hearing later. Police found the bunker when they turned up at the farm on May 17 last year.
Bob Elias, prosecuting, said the cannabis farm was sophisticated and had two growing rooms – one for cuttings and one for maturing plants – with ventilation and lighting. There were signs of a previous crop. Police estimated the plants would have yielded 2.46 grams of cannabis, worth £24,600 on the streets. Ashworth was arrested and interviewed and said she had got into financial difficulties and had been offered money for the use of her land. She claimed she had thought the hole was being used for stolen goods, but was frightened when she became aware it was cannabis, had been threatened, her horse had been shot and she had seen a gun. Mr Elias added the crown accepted she had been scared. Ashworth had no previous convictions. Charlotte Holland, for Ashworth, said she had been not only of good character, but of exemplary character. The defendant, who had now lost her standing in the community, had been ‘utterly stupid’ to get involved because of financial pressures she was under. Miss Holland said Ashworth had, in the run-up to the offence, lost her mother, aunt and partner and had suffered considerable illness herself.
The defendant, who had a 16-year-old daughter, had had a fire at her stables and lost livestock. She had £17,000 mortgage arrears, council tax arrears to the tune of £10,000 and it was extremely unlikely she would be able to keep he farm. Ashworth knew she had put her daughter in jeopardy as well as herself. The barrister added: “Her role in this, I would say, is limited and unusual in the circumstances.” Sentencing, Recorder Mark Ainsworth told the defendant: “You were at best naive.” He added: “This was a well established operation and had I thought you were responsible directly for the establishment of this facility there is no doubt you would go to prison for a relatively long time.” The judge said it was plain Ashworth had, in the past, given a great deal, had been well respected, hard- working and caring and had provided a public service, looking after a number of children. He added: “While this is a serious offence, your role in it was limited and the public interest would not be served by sending you to prison.” A 22-year-old man was cleared of the same allegation after the prosecution offered no evidence.
via : Lancashire Telegraph
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