Giving proceeds to poor not enough to save Long Sutton couple from jail

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Charity work in Kenya was not enough to save a Long Sutton couple being jailed for a drugs operation.

Michael Foster (62) and Susan Cooper (63) were living an incredible double life selling wholesale kilo deals of cannabis grown at their home in Bridge Road and another site in Terrington St Clement, Norfolk, to a local drugs baron and then jetting off to Kenya to dish out money to villagers and charities from the proceeds.

Described as the “most unusual cannabis growing case of its type”, Jon Dee, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court: “This couple were both in their 60s and were of previous good character.

“It perhaps can be best summed up by Mr Foster who told police in his own words during his interview that this started off as a hobby and turned into a business.

“For six years they produced cannabis in significant quantities.”

In a fateful twist, the pair were only caught when a police officer pursuing a burglar behind the couple’s home, recognised the distinctive cannabis smell coming from the property.

Inside, police found 159 cannabis plants with an estimated street value of around £20,000. Two of the buildings had been converted into a growing room and drying room. Officers also recovered £20,000 in £1,000 bundles from a carrier bag.

Mr Dee said: “This was a professional and commercial set up. There was plenty of evidence of cannabis plant growing. Windows had been boarded up, there was a false partition and the impression of the plant pots was still on the floor.”

Investigations showed the annual electricity bill for the Little Sutton farmhouse had risen by £2,000 which the couple explained by claiming to run a pottery business with a kiln.

Bank statements showed around £300,000 had been paid into the couple’s joint account over the six-year period between 2004 and 2010. A further £100,000 had gone through an account held in Mrs Cooper’s maiden name.

When finally caught in June 2010, Mrs Cooper “apologised profusely” for being unable to answer police questions. Mr Foster admitted regularly selling wholesale deals of around £1,500 to one buyer who he was introduced to through a loan shark.

Gareth Wheetman, mitigating for Foster, said the couple did not use the cash for lavish living. He said: “The very fact they were repeatedly flying off to Kenya in itself required money.”

Chris Milligan, mitigating for Cooper, said: “Susan Cooper is a good person who has done a bad thing. She had offered not just money, but care, to locals in the village near Mombasa where they regularly stayed. When a young adult called Wilson got a gangrenous infection in his leg he was given two days to live. She paid for that treatment.”

The pair, who were jailed for three years, admitted four charges of producing cannabis and a single offence of possessing criminal cash between March 2004 and June 2010.

Passing sentence, Judge Sean Morris said: “Cannabis is a dangerous drug. I am sure you were doing good things in Kenya with your drugs money - whether that was to appease your consciences I can only speculate.”