‘Scary loan shark dealers’ forced Portsmouth drug addict to turn flat into £22,500 cannabis factory

A DRUG addict who owed money to ‘scary loan shark’ dealers was forced to let his council flat be transformed into a cannabis factory – with drugs worth more than £22,000 found there.

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 5:28 pm

Cuckooed Louie Rees’ drug problem spiralled out of control, landing him with a £6,000 debt to ‘serious dealers’.

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But with the 32-year-old unable to pay back his debt, underworld criminals grabbed control of his Portsmouth City Council flat in Austin Court, Paulsgrove, to harvest marijuana.

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Police in Austin Close, Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, after the cannabis factory was discovered Picture: Tom Cotterill

However, the operation was unveiled after attention was drawn to the flat over a water leak reported by other residents on February 20.

Prosecutor Siobhan Lindsay told Portsmouth Crown Court: ‘A council employee forced entry and found a sophisticated cannabis factory with 29 plants that were six to eight weeks away from maturity.’

The sophisticated nature of the operation was highlighted by the flat having a ‘changed configuration’ to ‘maximise space’ for the cannabis to grow, the court heard.

Drugs seized by police had a wholesale value ranging from £4,000 to £12,000 and had a street value of anything between £7,500 and £22,500.

Rees was arrested before owning up to his role in the ill-fated scheme. ‘I done it,’ he told officers during his police interview.

The prosecutor added: ‘He told officers he had a £6,000 drug debt so agreed to allow cannabis to be grown in the flat to repay the debt.

‘These were serious drug dealers who he owed money to. He was aware of the scale of the operation.’

Howard Barrington-Clark, defending, said: ‘(Rees) was buying drugs from dealers who then turned into loan sharks and his debt built up and built up until he owed £6,000.

‘In November last year he was told he had to pay back the money which he couldn’t. He goes away for a week and by the time he comes back they have taken over the flat.

‘He panics and spends no more than 10 days there while sleeping on the floor before living with his mum.’

Rees’ name was then mentioned on social media before he ‘took flight’ according to Mr Barrington-Clark.

The defendant later ‘turned himself in’ to police.

The barrister added: ‘He was preyed upon. He had no one to turn to. It must be hard to say no to scary drug dealers who are loan sharks.

‘He didn’t set (the cannabis factory) up – he allowed it to be set up.’

Rees, of Allaway Avenue, Paulsgrove, admitted a charge of allowing his premises to be used for the production of cannabis.

The court heard how Rees, who has previous for non-dwelling burglary and violence, was handed a suspended sentence in 2015 for producing cannabis. He has been ‘clean’ of cannabis for two months now.

But despite conceding the defendant was ‘fortunate’ to avoid jail on that occasion, judge Timothy Mousley QC opted to spare Rees prison on this occasion.

‘This was a crime for financial gain and you played a significant part,’ he told Rees. ‘I accept you did it under a degree of intimidation though I’m unclear to what degree.’

Rees was handed a 10-month jail term suspended for 18 months and told to complete 12 rehabilitation days.

A spokeswoman for Hampshire police said after the sentencing: ‘We know that a lot of people will think it’s just a bit of cannabis, but we want to stress that any production of drugs is linked to hidden harm.

‘Large scale operations like this are often run by organised crime gangs. Those gangs are likely to engage in very serious violence involving weapons, such as firearms. They may also take advantage of vulnerable people, exploiting them or making them work in servitude.

‘It is not just a bit of cannabis, it’s linked to serious criminality. That’s why we are really keen to hear from people who suspect there is cannabis cultivation or drug-related activity going on in their neighbourhood.’

The city council did not wish to comment.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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