Police discovered a sizeable cannabis farm on the premises of an unused church building in County Durham, a court has heard.
The "large-scale commercial cultivation" was uncovered at Wheatley Hill Methodist Church, in Dodds Terrace back in May, according to prosecutors in the case.
Electrician Paul McAllister, who is alleged to have played an integral role in the illicit operation, was discovered by police in the church loft. Prosecutor Shaun Dryden said 72 mature cannabis plants and 99 pots containing stalks were found in ground floor area, which was fitted with lighting, extractor fans, transformers and cooling fans to ensure maximum growth and health of the plants.
Upstairs, 70 additional plants were found in varying stages of growth, along with 61 mature plants being hung up to dry, eight kilograms of cannabis flowering material and 14 plastic bags with a kilo of dried cannabis in each.
Mr Dryden added that the farm was likely capable of producing three crops a year to be sold in bulk to mid-level drug dealers. He estimated the value of the cannabis seized to be around £287,000.
Following his arrest, McAllister admitted that his electrician business had suffered losses earlier in the year and, as a result, he took on the job of wiring the disused church property and tending to the plants on a regular basis. He admitted producing cannabis and abstracting electricity.
The defence said that McAllister was of "good character" but exercised poor judgment when deciding to get involved in the farming operation. After beginning work at premises, the electrician soon "could not see a way out”, they said.
Judge Ray Singh handed down a 32-month sentence, noting that it was “a significant operation". Singh also ordered the destruction of all the plants and paraphernalia discovered at the property.