‘Respectable’ woman jailed for role in Ryton cannabis plot

The case was heard at the Justice Centre in Leamington
The case was heard at the Justice Centre in Leamington

Police discovered a ‘market garden’ of cannabis worth up to £215,000 when they raided the basement of a unit at a farm in Ryton-on-Dunsmore.

It was then found that the ‘manager of works’ for the operation, Elijah Stokes, was also acting as the nurseryman, preparing seedlings for the next crop at a young woman’s home.

And at Warwick Crown Court, Stokes, 29, of Yardley Street, Hillfields, Coventry, was jailed for seven years.

Stokes had denied producing cannabis in the basement of the unit at Whitehouse Farm in Oxford Road, Ryton, but was found guilty by the jury.

He had admitted a second offence of producing cannabis at the Amy Close, Longford, Coventry, home of Natalie Kennell who admitted permitting the premises to be used for its production.

Kennell, 24, was found guilty of possessing cocaine which was also found at her home with intent to supply it, which she had denied, and was jailed for three years.

Prosecutor Malcolm Morse said that when the police raided the farm unit, which had been rented by someone called Kang, in December last year they found a trap door under a pile of tyres.

The officers recorded the scene as they went down into the basement where they immediately saw a battery of switches with a large number of cables coming from them to power fans and high-power lighting, and large-diameter ducting for ventilation.

“You can see it is an underground market garden of cannabis plants,” commented Mr Morse.

There were the remaining stalks of cannabis plants which had already been harvested, and stacks of flower pots waiting to be planted up with another crop.

The amount of electricity to power the operation was huge, and had been obtained by by-passing the legitimate supply.

There were 260 plants capable of yielding anything from seven kilos to 21.5 kilos of cannabis with a street value of between £72,000 and ‘as much as nearly a quarter of a million.’

Among the equipment the officers found in the basement were two white oscillating fans on stands, which Mr Morse explained were significant.

The police had been interested in what was going on there for a while, and had been keeping observations on Stokes who was seen visiting Whitehouse Farm in different vehicles over the course of the previous two months.

He had also been seen visiting a hydroponics shop, and on December 3 he picked up his nephew Oshae Hunt and they put two oscillating fans from the garage at Stokes’s home into a car.

Stokes drove to the farm and went into the unit, and was then seen making exchanges with two other men who walked away with bags, after which he was seen counting money.

When Stokes was stopped after driving away, the fans were no longer in the car and he was found to have keys to the gate to the farm site and to the unit and £5,700 in cash.

In an upstairs bedroom at Amy Close was another cannabis factory, complete with overhead lighting and fans.

Mr Morse said that was a nursery, with six rows of ten ‘baby cannabis plants’ being grown in an incubator, waiting to be potted up and capable of producing cannabis worth up to £50,000.

Stokes claimed that was for himself, and had nothing to do with the crop at the farm unit, where he said he used part of it to store alcohol which he traded in – and he denied knowing about the underground cannabis factory.

Also at Amy Road the police searched the freezer where they found 43 grams of cocaine at high levels of purity which at street level would have been worth just over £4,000.

Both Stokes and Kennell denied knowing anything about the cocaine, and the jury found Stokes not guilty, but Kennell guilty.

After the jury’s verdicts Mr Morse said Kennell had no previous convictions, but Stokes had a number of convictions, and at the time was still on licence from an eight-year sentence for robbery in 2007.

And he added: “It would be appropriate that she (Kennell) should be regarded as someone who was operating for the benefit of some other person without a full understanding of what she was getting herself into.”

Simon Hunka, for Kennell, said she came from a well-respected family in Coventry who run their own business which she had worked in.

He described her as a naïve young woman who had got caught up in other people’s lives without realising the full seriousness of what she was getting involved in.

Recorder Tim Raggatt QC, who had described Stokes as the ‘manager of works’ told him: “You fall to be dealt with for two counts, but the reality is that it is really all one event.

“At Whitehouse Farm there was a commercial cannabis factory of some substance. You were in charge of this site when necessary, and you set up a nursery at the home of your friend and co-defendant.

“You are someone who has turned to crime in an organised fashion.”

And he told Kennell: “In your public life you are a respectable individual, but you were prepared to let your house be used as a drugs storage and nursery.”

Oshae Hunt, 18, of Gilbert Close, Hillfields, was found not guilty of being involved in producing cannabis at the farm after it was said that although he had gone there with his uncle, he did not go inside the unit.