Judges refuse to cut sentences of cannabis growers

Michael Foster
Michael Foster

A couple who used profits from their Little Sutton cannabis farm to make “significant” charitable donations to good causes in Africa have failed to convince top judges their jail terms should be cut.

Michael John Foster (62) and Susan Cooper (63) used an estimated quarter of their £400,000 criminal profits to pay for life-saving surgery, computers for an eye hospital and schooling in Kenya.

Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper

But the benefactors, who grew hundreds of illegal plants over six years, were jailed for three years at Lincoln Crown Court in October last year after admitting four counts of producing cannabis and one of possessing criminal property.

Despite claims the couple had “touched real lives”, senior judges at London’s Court of Appeal today rejected a challenge to their sentences, saying their illicitly-funded philanthropy could not justify a softer punishment.

Mrs Justice Gloster said the couple’s drug operation was only uncovered by chance when police hunting a burglar in the village of Little Sutton smelled cannabis outside their property in Bridge Road.

Officers found cultivation rooms, growing and lighting equipment and £20,000 in cash at the premises in June 2010. A further raid of a property the couple, now of Garrett Court, Norwich, rented in Terrington St Clement, Norfolk, revealed another site used by the drug farmers.

Mrs Justice Gloster, sitting with Lady Justice Rafferty and Sir David Calvert-Smith, said: “Evidence showed that they had helped a Kenyan man pay for an operation on a gangrenous leg and for schooling for local Kenyan children.”

However, she said it was also clear they spent large sums on maintaining their lifestyle.

On appeal, the couple’s barrister, Gareth Wheetman, referred to their benevolent exploits, saying “there are real lives that were touched”. He argued the sentences imposed on them failed to reflect their mitigation.

But, on rejecting the challenge, Mrs Justice Gloster said: “The finding that they may have chosen to expend unconfirmed quantities of the proceeds of their crime on philanthropic donations does not provide good grounds on this appeal for further reduction to the sentence.

“The sentencing judge clearly and fairly took account of all of these factors as well as all the significant personal factors affecting the appellants.”