Property developer paid £14,000 by cannabis gang in jail term plea

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A PROPERTY developer who turned to crime after falling on hard times has been told he cannot complain about his jail term.

London’s Criminal Appeal Court heard Matthew Jamie Nicholas Whitehead was paid £14,000 by a criminal gang to let them set up a cannabis farm in a converted barn he was renovating.

The 44-year-old, of Lee Lane, Bolsterstone, was jailed for three years and nine months at Sheffield Crown Court in September last year, after he admitted producing the drug.

He challenged his sentence at London’s Criminal Appeal Court, with his lawyers arguing it was ‘too long’ for his crime.

But his appeal was dismissed by top judges, who said the term was ‘not excessive’ for the significant role he played in setting up the farm.

The cannabis farm was discovered in the garage loft space at a listed barn Whitehead was renovating in Cawthorne, Barnsley.

The court heard there were a number of mature plants and some cuttings, with a potential value of more than £90,000, and there were signs there had been a previous crop at the premises.

Judge Nicholas Cooke QC said Whitehead was a man of previous good character, who had ‘succumbed to criminal temptation’ because of financial difficulties.

He was offered £5,000 a month by those responsible for growing the cannabis, and had been paid £14,000 - a sum the judge described as a ‘large amount’ compared with the ‘pittance’ usually paid to so-called ‘gardeners’ of cannabis farms.

Whitehead challenged his sentence, arguing it was over the top for his crime and claiming he had been ‘threatened and coerced’ by the criminal gang.

But, dismissing his appeal, Judge Cooke said: “This does not really sit well with him receiving £14,000, even if those with whom he dealt were not trustworthy and did not pay him what he was supposed to receive.”

The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Wyn Williams, added: “He played a significant role for substantial reward in setting up the cannabis farm. The sentence was neither wrong in principle nor manifestly excessive.”