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Chicken farm was turned into cannabis factory

This is Hull, 1st April 2006

A chicken farm was transformed into a cannabis factory by two men who claimed they were producing the drug as a pain relief for people with cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS).

Neil Wankiewicz, 36, of Westfield Farm, Sigglesthorne, near Hornsea, and odd-job man Michael Parker, 52, denied they had been running a commercial enterprise.

However, police found 150 cannabis plants, sophisticated equipment including "white light" lamps, filter pumps, heaters, thermometers and a guide to cannabis production when they raided the farm on August 14 last year.

The pair told Hull Crown Court they had been growing the drug solely for medicinal purposes.

They were supplying a group called THC4MS, an Internet-based group that asks for donations of cannabis to send in chocolate bars to people with cancer.

The court heard Wankiewicz was motivated to help the group by the death of his brother, who died of cancer in March 2003. He earned £21,000 a year to manage the farm for his father-in-law, Ken Danby, who did not know about the drug cultivation.

Parker, of Aberford Walk, east Hull, who was loaned the use of an outbuilding for his sculpturing business in return for occasional farm labour, helped him with the cannabis production.

Judge Michael Mettyear said he believed it was "high unlikely" the cannabis production had been only for medicinal purposes.

However, he accepted Wankiewicz would have been motivated to help others after his brother's death.

Both men admitted charges of producing cannabis and possessing a drug with intent to supply between April 1 and August 15 last year.

Richard Clews, prosecuting, said eight two-storey sheds, originally built to house pigs, had been specially equipped for drug-making. He told the court there was evidence to suggest the men were expanding the operation by installing an automatic system, although they denied this.

He said: "This was a commercial enterprise and a labour intensive operation."

Both men refused to name anyone connected with the TMC4MS group.

Wankiewicz said: "I saw my brother die of cancer and waste away to nothing painfully. I offered to supply them with cannabis, but it was really poor quality. We tried and tried but we kept getting failed crops. We were amateurs."

His barrister, Robin Mairs, said: "There was never any money exchanged and the cannabis was rubbish quality."

Parker, who admitted smoking some of the produce to help relieve a bad back, said the pair were plagued with problems. He said: "We had spider mites and mould, the lot. Most of what we produced ended up in the incinerator."

Sentencing them both to serve 300 hours of community service and ordering them to pay £500 legal costs each, Judge Michael Mettyear told them: "You knew what you were doing was illegal. Had you been more successful, it is certain you would have served a prison sentence."

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