A gang of bungling burglars who travelled from London to steal from a huge cannabis farm in South Yorkshire have been jailed.
The men were so unsophisticated in their planning their theft was likened at Sheffield Crown Court to something from Only Fools and Horses.
The court heard the group arrived at the unit in Hellaby Industrial Estate, near Rotherham, in a small Vauxhall van and a Ford Focus, registered and insured in their own names.
The men – Philip Agostinho, aged 25, Jemal Mehmat Ali, 23, James Mattin, 23, and Karl West, 28 – admitted burglary and were jailed for a total of 11 years, eight months and two weeks.
Police received a call on November 7 last year about an ongoing burglary at an industrial unit in Eden Close.
The first two officers on the scene could see through a hole in a bricked up fire escape that cannabis was being grown inside. One of the officers was struck with a stick as he tried to prevent the men from fleeing the building.
Mattin, Agostinho, and West surrendered at the scene, while Ali and another gang member, Michael Charles Ward, fled but were found nearby after a search by a police helicopter.
Prosecutor Anthony Dunne said the unit had been adapted for growing a large amount of cannabis and featured rooms housing fully grown and young plants and living quarters.
Examinations of mobile phones and laptops found at the scene revealed no link between the men and the drugs.
“It does appear that this was an operation belonging to someone else which the defendants had travelled from London in order to burgle and take the proceeds for themselves,” said Mr Dunne.
When harvested the crop of cannabis would have weighed around 24.6kg.
Mattin, of Harrier Way in East Ham, London, was jailed for three years and nine months.
The father-of-one drove his van to the unit, but told police in an interview that he did not know what was in the building until he arrived.
Ali, of William Morley Close, East Ham, was described as a foot soldier in the operation, travelling to South Yorkshire with Mattin.
The court was told he suffers with a ‘constitutional medical condition’ and lives in constant pain.
Ali, who has no previous convictions, was jailed for 22-and-a-half months.
Agastinho, of Fordspark Road, Carrington, London, who was also described as a foot solider, was jailed for three years and seven months – including seven months for breaching a suspended sentence. He had lost his job and was struggling to support his young family.
West, of Blaney Crescent, East Ham, was jailed for three years. He drove up in his Ford Fiesta that was registered and insured in his own name.
Ward, aged 22, of Melbourne Road, East Ham, will be sentenced later in the year at Snaresbook Crown Court, London.
Tuan Phan, aged 35, of Charles Coveney Road in Peckham, who was found hiding in the Ford Focus, was jailed for two years after being found guilty of conspiracy to supply cannabis following a trial earlier this year.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said no-one had been charged with cultivating the cannabis.