A man who hid a cannabis factory in the middle of stacks of straw at a farm in Staffordshire has been sentenced to more than three years in prison.
Mitchell Nicholls, 46, of Tyebeams, Shard End, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to the production of cannabis on the first day of his trial at Stafford Crown Court on Wednesday (14 March). He was jailed for 38 months.
Mr Nicholls had been on the run in mainland Europe since July 2015, refusing to hand himself in or return to the UK. He was arrested last November at Heathrow Airport on a European arrest warrant when he flew in from Switzerland.
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He had been forensically linked through fingerprints to a highly sophisticated hydroponic cannabis-growing production, which had been “professionally concealed” in a large barn at Brackenhurst Farm, Newchurch, Burton-upon-Trent.
The judge said Nicholls played a significant role in the cannabis production.
Two other men were imprisoned last January for their part in the offence.
Ian Locke, of Newport, Shropshire, and Martin Young, of Telford, Shropshire, admitted producing cannabis and possession with intent to supply.
Mr Young, 52, rented the farm to breed shire horses.
During their trial the court heard tractors were needed to move the bales and reveal the entrance to the factory.
Mr Young was sentenced to 38 months in prison. Mr Locke, 64, was jailed for two years and three months.
During a search at the farm in March 2015, detectives seized £5,000 in cash and 16kg of skunk-flowering cannabis worth approximately £133,000.
Officers also found a series of secret rooms which were completely concealed by straw bales and contained hundreds of cannabis plants.
Forensic scientists estimated that the plants could produce 60.5kg of skunk cannabis a year, which equated to a street value of £432,142.
A proceeds of crime hearing will be held on 1 June 2018. A restraining order was placed on Mr Nicholls’ assets – property and high-value items including a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Detective Inspector Lesley Fowler, of Staffordshire Police’s major and organised crime team, said: “I am pleased with today’s sentencing.
“The arrest and subsequent conviction of Nicholls are the result of a thorough and meticulous investigation. We are determined to rid our communities of drugs and those intent on their production.”