Man jailed over three cannabis factories

17 August 2011, 16:29 | Updated: 17 August 2011, 17:06

A businessman has been jailed for 10 years for conspiring to produce cannabis at three Kent factories which would have been worth an estimated £2m on the streets.

54 year old John Read from Marine Parade in Whitstable, has been jailed for nine years on each of three counts of conspiring to produce cannabis. In addition he received a one year sentence for each of three charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

His co-defendant, Roger Coombs, aged 70, from Lyndhurst Close in Crawley, West Sussex, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years for one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice. He must also carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.

Read and Coombs were both found guilty on 13 July following a five-week trial at Canterbury Crown Court during which the jury heard how the three factories were uncovered by police in 2009 and 2010.

Recorder John Gower QC heard the role of father-of–four, Read, was to acquire the premises for the factories and be a respectable front for them, providing false references when needed. He had turned to crime after his successful printing business failed when he lost a major client as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

In sentencing Read, Recorder Gower QC added: "This was a sophisticated, well-organised and professionally run organisation in which tens of thousands of pounds had been invested. Your activity sought out properties suitable for the production of cannabis and you negotiated the terms of leases with landlords or agents, using references, some of which were forged. The most despicable aspect of your conduct was the involvement, by you, of your business partner and had it not been for you, he (Coombs) would never have found himself in the dock."

Detective Constable Dave Godden, from the Serious and Organised Crime Unit at the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, has welcomed the length of the sentence imposed.

He said: “This was one of the largest and most professionally set-up cannabis factory finds in Kent in recent years and the overall yield from the plants at all three locations would have been substantial."

The first of the factories raided was a barn at Higher Shelvin Farm, Wootton, near Dover, on 5 August 2009. The barn’s interior had been sub-divided into ten rooms. Although no-one was found at the premises there was clear evidence of human occupation. More than 1,440 cannabis plants in varying stages of growth were found in nine of the ten rooms with a potential street value in excess of £1m.

Higher Shelvin Farm Wooten, Dover

On 15 April 2010, police executed a search warrant at three adjoining industrial units on Coombe Valley Road, Dover. One of the units comprised seven rooms constructed around a central corridor. Together they contained in excess of 3,000 cannabis plants and a potential street value in excess of £1m. Two Vietnamese ‘gardeners’ were arrested within the units. They pleaded guilty to the cultivation of cannabis and were jailed.

Coombe Valley Road

On 27 May 2010, officers executed a warrant at a large industrial unit on the Joseph Wilson Industrial Estate, Whitstable. The unit comprised seven rooms dedicated to the cultivation of cannabis and contained cannabis plants in various stages of growth, from cuttings to mature plants.

Joseph Wilson Industrial Estate A total of 966 growing plants were seized and a further 816 previously harvested root balls found.  They would have had a potential street value greatly in excess of £270,000. Within the premises were two Vietnamese gardeners – a 17-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy.  Both were arrested and the 13-year-old later pleaded guilty to producing cannabis and was detained.