Eight men sentenced for role in £560,000 cannabis farm operation

Eight men sentenced for role in £560,000 cannabis farm operation

Eight men who conspired to produce and sell more than half a million pounds worth of cannabis in Bristol, Gloucester and Cardiff have been sentenced.

Over a period of five months, six cannabis farms were located by officers from the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU).  In total, more than 800 cannabis plants were seized, with a street value of more than £560,000.

Each of the six locations featured electricity meters that had been bypassed to supply the high wattage heat and light systems, air extraction and ventilation needed to ensure numerous crops a year.

The group was led by Joe Hatherall, 24, from West Town Lane in Brislington, Bristol.  He was the only member to plead not guilty, but was convicted of conspiracy to produce and supply cannabis on March 23 and was sentenced today to nine years in prison. 

Hatherall was the final man to be arrested last July after officers found him in a hotel next to Bristol airport with his passport, £550 cash and a letter of apology to his girlfriend.  Despite his denials, officers still believe he intended to flee the country.

Marcus Humm, 27, from High Street in Dilton Marsh, Wiltshire, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce and supply cannabis and was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Martin McDonagh, 25 from Bonnington Walk, Lockleaze and Martin Casey, 28, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply and were both sentenced to two years and six months’ imprisonment.

Four others pleaded guilty to being involved in the production of cannabis: Colston Dixey, 19, from Marine Parade in Pill; Kevin Pearce, 20, of no fixed abode; Alan Greer, 69, from Ardmore Close, Gloucester; and Paul Cotterell, 20, from Minehead Road in Filwood. Cotterell also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving after he collided with a member of the public’s car while attempting to drive off from officers.

Dixey, Pearce and Cotterell received a nine-month prison sentence suspended for two years and 200 hours of community service. Greer received a 12-month community order and a curfew.

Three other men will be sentenced in connection with this inquiry at a future date.

Detective Inspector Paul Catton, from the SW ROCU, said: “We took this investigation on at the request of Avon and Somerset Police to build a case against an organised crime group set to make hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“It soon became clear to us through surveillance and later analysis of evidence including phone data, that Hatherall was the central figure coordinating his co-conspirators in the production and supply of cannabis on a commercial scale.

“We even seized footage from Hatherall’s own CCTV of him leaving his Brislington home to check-out police activity at Whiteladies Road following the arrest of another man.

“The fact ten of the group pleaded guilty shows the strength of the evidence we built against them and is testament to the hard work put in by officers and staff across the SW ROCU.”

Chief Inspector Nigel Colston, in charge of policing in south Bristol, where Hatherall and a number of his group were based, said: “This case is a strong reminder of why it’s so important for people in the community to speak up.  My neighbourhood teams often hear the frustrations of local people who see the harm being caused by drugs and organised criminals who they perceive as operating with impunity.

“As shown here, we will act on the information we’re given and have specialist resources to call on to ensure such organised criminals aren’t able to operate across our region.  The work of the SW ROCU, by its nature, isn’t seen by communities, but results like this are a great opportunity to reassure of the work that goes on behind the scenes.”

Officers went to 125 Whiteladies Road in Bristol in June and found the entire basement, as well as three rooms in an upstairs flat, had been converted to grow cannabis. In total, 158 plants were seized, worth around £220,000.

Six of the 11 men were arrested on July 1, 2017, outside 4 Ardmore Close in Tuffley, Gloucester. McDonagh and Casey were stopped as they drove off with two holdalls containing 3kg of cannabis, and Pearce and Dixey were arrested in a car driven by Cotterell, who collided with a member of the public’s vehicle while trying to escape. 

Inside the house, three rooms had been converted to grow cannabis, with 96 plants seized – some of which had just been harvested and is likely to have been in the holdalls seized from McDonagh and Casey.

The other four cannabis grows, all similar in set-up, were found at Brithdir Street, Newport Road and Cowbridge Road East in Cardiff and Foster Street in Bristol.

Today’s result follows the sentencing of five men last Thursday (March 29), led by 33-year-old Craig Kennington from Bedminster, who were caught by SW ROCU as they conspired to sell £40,000 worth of cocaine in Bristol.  More than £20,000 cash was seized as part of the operation.

Anyone with information about people they believe to be dealing drugs should report their suspicions to the police here, or on the non-emergency number 101. 

Or, to give information anonymously, call independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or through their website here. They never ask for your name and cannot trace your call.