Cannabis farmer is jailed for two years

Cannabis farmer is jailed for two years

11 October 2017

A BALLYNAHINCH drug dealer, who developed an ‘extensive and sophisticated’ cannabis farm, has been jailed for two years.

Thirty year-old Philip Harris, a former soldier who had served in Iraq, was yesterday told by Judge Piers Grant that a “significant custodial sentence” was required.

Harris appeared at Downpatrick Crown Court after the discovery by police of the cannabis growing operation at his Newcastle Road home on August 28 last year.

He was later charged with cultivating cannabis, possession of the drug with intent to supply, diverting electricity and money laundering.

Prosecution barrister, Sam Magee, told the court how Harris and his partner rented the home in November 2012, down a long lane well off the main road, and established a “successful and productive cannabis farm.”

“He sold it to other drug users and then laundered thousands of pounds through his bank account,” said Mr Magee.

The barrister said an analysis of his bank account shows that from mid 2013 until the farm was detected prosecutors estimate he laundered over £214,000 through his account, earned from his illegal drug dealing.

On August 28, police received a phone call asking them to go to the house to check on the wellbeing of the occupants. The officers who arrived noticed the strong smell of cannabis as they approached a garage and saw an electric cable running from the garage to an electricity pole.

There were three garages in the house, two of them filled with expensive cars and motorbikes while outside sat a large motorhome.

However, inside the third garage the officers discovered the cannabis growing farm, with 80-90 plants in various stages of growth. There was a sophisticated ventilation system and extensive insulation along with industrial size driers to prepare the cannabis for sale. Harris had diverted electricity to provide the extensive heating needed for the cannabis cultivation.

The garage also contained an amount of dried cannabis ready for sale.

The police decided to leave everything in place and await his return from England the next day. However, overnight someone went into the garage and removed almost all the cannabis plants, leaving just nine for the police to confiscate the next day.

When Harris was arrested he claimed he had been growing the cannabis to make medicinal oil, a claim Mr Magee said was rejected by the Crown.

When police started to probe his accounts they discovered he had been leading a luxurious lifestyle with a gym and weights room inside his house and multiple flat screen televisions in addition to the cars and motorbikes. Harris and his partner also enjoyed many foreign holidays.

Harris had no declared earnings since 2012 and his partner was claiming benefits, Mr Magee explained. However, his bank account showed 196 transactions, for which he could not give any explanation, totalling £214,985.

“It is clear he had been living on the money he made from drugs,” said Mr Magee.

The lawyer explained that at one stage during questioning, Harris claimed he had made the money by selling rare pups for several thousand pounds each, but this was immediately rejected by the police.

Defence barrister, Tom McCreanor, said the drugs operation was not a long running affair, pointing to a visit to the house in November 2015 by a representative of the estate agent who let the house and who found nothing untoward.

Mr McCreanor said Harris has a background in the military and served as a solider in Iraq. “He was eventually discharged from the army and found it difficult to deal with his experiences,” said Mr McCreanor.

Describing Harris as a caring and considerate partner and father, the barrister said the consequences for him will be considerable.

Judge Piers Grant said Harris had been operating over a “significant period of time” and had the “lifestyle” to show for it. He rejected his assertion that he had earned a large amount through dog breeding as “quite unbelievable” and said there were “substantial” and unexplained bank lodgements between March 2013 and August 2016.

“The photos show a sophisticated and operational drugs growing area,” he said.

Judge Grant said he was taking into account an initial police assessment of 80 to 90 plants on the property.

He noted a doctor’s report suggesting the defendant had post-traumatic stress disorder but said there was a lack of military records.

Judge Grant said that Harris’s guilty plea at the last opportunity provided him with little credit, but it had reduced a custodial sentence of four-and-half years to four years. Two of the years are to be spent on licence. A £50 offender levy was also imposed.