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Judge's Criticised For Drugs Comment

The Oxford Mail, 4th August 2006

A judge has been criticised for suggesting that people who use their homes as drug factories are no more of a nuisance than those who cultivate tomato plants.

Judge Charles Harris questioned whether council tenant Phillip Pledge was causing anti-social behaviour by growing and storing cannabis of a street value totalling £3,400 at his flat in Blackbird Leys, Oxford.

He also compared the nuisance value of growing cannabis to fictional detective Sherlock Holmes taking drugs in the novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The judge's comments, made during an Antisocial Behaviour Order hearing at Oxford Crown Court yesterday, left community leaders baffled.

Blackbird Leys councillor Lee Cole, of the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA), who campaigns against the social damage of drug use in his area, said: "It sounds like he's been on something himself. The judge seems to have lost his mind.

"Cultivating cannabis attracts the wrong type of people to your house. And neighbours, especially in a place like a tower block, have to put up with them knocking on doors all the time."

Barry Beadle, area manager for Oxford drugs counselling group Libra Project, said: "In the short term he is probably right but in the long term the production and cultivation of illegal drugs will have anti-social effect to the individual and the community."

The judge's comments, which we have reproduced in full below, were made at a hearing brought by Oxford City Council against Pledge, of Strawberry Path in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, who allegedly broke his tenancy agreement by storing drugs in a council flat.

Police raided the flat in Evenlode Tower in February where Pledge was temporarily housed after an arson attack on his home.

They discovered cannabis plants growing under hydroponic lights and drugs with a street value of £3,400 and weighing 21.1oz.

Prosecuting, Simon Strelitz, told the court by storing and growing drugs, Pledge broke his tenancy agreement .

He asked the judge for a possession order for the council house in Strawberry Path and an Asbo banning Pledge from Blackbird Leys for two years.

He added: "The city council is not prepared to allow its property to harbour people who wish to commit offences.

"The fact that he has drugs in such quantity acts as a magnet for other unsavoury characters."

After making his remarks, Judge Harris also called the Asbo application "the sort of thing they do in Russia or China".

Defending himself, Pledge, a business partner in Oxford Hydroponics and a driver for the National Blood Service, told the court the drugs were for personal use.

He added: "I've not dealt drugs and it's never been proven that I dealt drugs. I am a partner in a hydroponics shop which carries a certain stigma with it.

"I've been trying to get a move away for two years and been trying to wean myself off cannabis. The only reason I went back to the cannabis was because of the traumatic experience when my house burnt down."

Pledge remains on bail for possession of class C drugs with intent to supply.

Judge Harris told the court he would reserve judgement on the case until Monday.

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