SHEFFIELD’s top judge has vowed to continue locking up cannabis growers despite the introduction of new sentencing guidelines - and publicly backed The Star’s campaign to crack down on the drug.
Judge Alan Goldsack QC told Sheffield Crown Court reducing sentences would ‘undermine public confidence’ - adding he would choose to disregard the guidelines if he thought an immediate jail term was called for.
The judge spoke out as he locked up six men caught growing cannabis at home, and ordered seven others to do unpaid work.
And he praised The Star’s Drugs Crackdown campaign, adding cannabis growing has a ‘damaging impact’ on communities.
“In Sheffield the local Press has taken a healthy interest in the sentencing of people who grow cannabis,” he said.
“The Star has regularly reported sentencing in such cases, and has issued editorial opinions which have supported the consistency and level of sentences imposed.
“There is the clearest possible evidence of the damaging impact on local communities of this particular type of offending.”
The big crackdown started in September, when Judge Goldsack said courts had been told to ‘get tougher’ on the ‘epidemic’ of cannabis-growing.
In the following month 11 growers were jailed, and many more have since been handed custodial sentences.
But last month another Sheffield judge, Michael Murphy QC, criticised new guidelines which he said did not allow him to jail Craig Cupit, 33, for growing cannabis in his cellar.
The Swinton man was given a 12-month community order instead.
The judge said Sentencing Council guidelines, which came into force fully on Monday, ‘diluted’ court powers. The Council later defended the rules saying they brought guidance for the first time - and Cupit could have been jailed.
“We do not expect judges to be changing the way they sentence,” a spokesman said.
But Judge Goldsack said he ‘struggled to reconcile the guideline with the statement’ in cases where criminals had grown cannabis for personal use only, as up to 500g of the drug can be harvested from just one plant.
“Where an offender has grown cannabis with a yield close to a kilo it is my judgement an immediate custodial sentence is called for,” he said.
“If it is not possible to continue passing immediate sentences of imprisonment under the guideline, I would have no hesitation in saying that, in those cases, to follow the guideline would not be in the interests of justice and decline to follow it.”