A SUDBURY man who told a jury he was forced to help grow a crop of cannabis has been found not guilty.
Gary Woodward, 45, said he had been left with “no choice” other than helping in the illegal enterprise at an industrial unit in Addison Road, Sudbury.
Woodward, of Priory Road, had denied being concerned with the production of a Class B drug between April and June last year. On Thursday, a jury at Ipswich Crown Court found him not guilty.
Police raided the industrial unit on June 14 after being alerted by a strong smell of cannabis. Inside, officers found four steel shipping containers being used to grow 1,263 cannabis plants.
Giving evidence, Woodward said that after being shown the cannabis by his friend Simon Hicks, who was involved in renting the premises, he was threatened by Paul O’Meara.
In a letter sent from Norwich Prison, where 49-year-old O’Meara is serving a four-and-a-half year sentence for cigarette smuggling, Woodward claimed that he had been named.
He said the letter said: “I’ll ruin your family – I’ll ruin your life if you don’t do what needs to be done. I’ll send the relevant people round to sort this out.”
Woodward said he had felt “sick to the stomach” when he was shown the letter by Hicks, 41, of Sackers Green, Newton, who pleaded guilty to being concerned in the production of a Class B drug and is to be sentenced at a later date.
Concern about the safety of his ex-wife and son had left him feeling unable to refuse to be involved, he said. Woodward alleged that he had known about the cannabis crop for just four weeks when the police raid took place.
He told the court that he and Hicks had been in the process of killing off the cannabis plants at the time the police searched the unit.
Weed killer had been applied to some of the plants and lighting had been reduced to make it appear the plants were dying naturally.
When he was shown what was being grown in containers inside the industrial unit, Woodward said he was “absolutely gobsmacked.” He claimed that neither he nor Hicks had wanted any involvement but both had been pressured into co-operating. Woodward told the jury: “Mr O’Meara is a very frightening man.”
Giving evidence for the prosecution, O’Meara said he had carried out electrical work at the unit for Hicks.
Initially, O’Meara, who was jailed in February for attempting to evade duty on more than 20million cigarettes imported into the UK, was arrested by police investigating the cannabis but later was told there was no evidence against him and no action would be taken. O’Meara said: “I don’t agree with cannabis or drugs of any kind.”
He said he had never threatened anyone to force them into setting up what had been found by police.