WHEN developer Stephen Armstrong bought the crumbling Whittingham Tower in Northumberland neighbours thought their historic landmark was to be restored to its former glory.
Yet his renovation plans for the 14th Century pele tower, near Alnwick, involved setting up a cannabis farm within its walls.
And only a New Year’s Day blaze sent plans to grow his own pain-killing drug supply up in smoke.
Firefighters were called when a caravan next to the three-storey stone tower caught fire following a suspected electrical fault.
They saw a cable running in to the tower and forced their way inside, Newcastle Crown Court heard, and there they found 75 cannabis plants thriving with the help of grow bags, watering boxes and a by-passed power supply.
“The plants were discovered in the basement,” said barrister Emma Atkinson.
“Also in an upstairs room accessed by ladder were drying-out boxes with cannabis inside.” Armstrong was living in Cambois, Northumberland, while the renovation was being carried out at the tower, the centrepiece of Whittingham village.
The Grade II-listed building became so run down it was placed on English Heritage’s at risk register.
But it was sold at auction to Armstrong for £80,000 three years ago, after being put up for sale by its owner, Lord Ravensworth of Eslington.
Armstrong admitted producing the Class B drug.
He planned to use the crop to ease the pain of a back injury that was so bad he was on incapacity benefit, the court heard.
Barrister Ms Atkinson added: “It was for his own use for therapeutic, not commercial, reasons.” Armstrong was given a 26-week jail term suspended for a year and a four-week curfew.
Mr Recorder Hatton said: “The production of cannabis as you well appreciate is a serious offence.
“However, I accept this was for your own therapeutic use so I can suspend the inevitable jail term.”
Neighbours fall out
A NEIGHBOUR dispute erupted when Armstrong began the rescue operation of Whittingham Tower.
His plans to restore the centuries-old tower and convert it into a family home were strongly supported by local people, including a couple living in the adjoining Tower Cottage.
The neighbours were happy to have scaffolding put up around the property to allow renovation to go ahead and also supported plans to install new windows.
But the harmonious relationship was shattered when Armstrong fell out with his new neighbours after a seemingly trivial incident.
Police were called to the tower on several occasions because of disputes between the two sides, once when Mr Armstrong was allegedly threatening to cut down a hedge along the adjoining boundary.
The row intensified when it was discovered that work had been carried out inside the tower without the required planning permission.
Armstrong was, however, granted retrospective planning permission for the work.