SIX convicted drug-growing criminals have launched a test-case challenge against Sheffield’s top judge – by bidding to have their jail terms quashed and set a legal precedent.
The drug growers were all jailed in one afternoon at Sheffield Crown Court by Judge Alan Goldsack QC, who vowed to carry on locking up cannabis farmers despite the introduction of new sentencing guidelines.
Judge Goldsack publicly backed The Star’s Crackdown on Drugs campaign to stamp out cannabis-growing – and said reducing sentences would ‘undermine public confidence’.
But the convicts are now taking their cases to London, to the Court of Appeal, and arguing people who grow cannabis at home for their own use should be jailed only in exceptional circumstances.
Gary Woodward, Mark Bolton, Alex McGregor, Matthew Taylor, Gary Brearley and Robert Healey were all part of a 13-strong group sentenced together in a bumper hearing last month at Sheffield Crown Court.
Six walked free with community orders, while another was handed a suspended sentence - but Judge Goldsack argued it was ‘in the interests of justice’ to jail the rest.
Sheffield barrister Andrew Smith, who represented one of the men given a community penalty, said the appeal case hinges on whether Judge Goldsack should have followed new guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council.
“The argument is that what the guidance clearly says is the starting point for somebody convicted of growing a relatively small amount - six, maybe up to 10 or so plants - is a fine to a lower level community penalty.
“The message Judge Goldsack is priding himself on putting out is that the sentence should be immediate custody.”
Mr Smith added: “If there’s something exceptional about the case he’s entitled to go outside the guidelines.
“But what Judge Goldsack seems to be saying is the guidelines are wrong, and people who grow half a dozen plants should not be given non-custodial sentences.
“In my opinion he’s not applying the law.”
The six jailed drug growers will appear together at the Court of Appeal for the important test case next month.
“It’s going to be an interesting case,” Mr Smith said. “The Court of Appeal don’t want a court making a ruling one day which is contrary to a ruling on another day.”
Last month Judge Goldsack publicly backed The Star’s campaign to stamp out cannabis-growing, saying the crime had a ‘damaging impact’ on communities.
The big crackdown started in September, when the judge said courts had been told to ‘get tougher’ on cannabis-growing.
But in February another Sheffield judge, Michael Murphy QC, criticised new guidelines which he said didn’t allow him to jail Craig Cupit, 33, for growing cannabis in his cellar.
Judge Murphy said the guidelines ‘diluted’ court powers - but the Sentencing Council later defended the rules, saying: “We do not expect judges to be changing the way they sentence.”
Woodward, 31, of Hayhurst Crescent, Maltby, Rotherham, was locked up for 15 months, while McGregor, 23, of Oaks Fold Road, Shiregreen, Sheffield, was jailed for 10 months.
Taylor, 28, of Race Street, Barnsley, Bolton, 47, of Towngate, Mapplewell, Brearley, 45, of Station Road, Royston, and Healey, 24, of Edward Street, Darfield, were each sentenced to nine months.
Brearley was denied bail in advance of the May hearing by appeal judge Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, who said there were ‘no arguable grounds’ for challenging the sentence.