A 78-YEAR-OLD man has been jailed after admitting being the frontman for a huge cannabis farm which has left a family on the brink of ruin.
Clare and Gary Trotter were left almost £60,000 out of pocket after their seemingly harmless, 78-year-old tenant Robert Parkin turned out to be a frontman for the gang who converted their five-bedroomed farmhouse into a drugs factory.
After police raided the house and seized the illegal haul the Trotters found the gang had destroyed virtually everything inside.
Walls and ceilings were full of holes, a chimney breast had been damaged, there was growing equipment strewn throughout the house along with an overpowering smell and piles of rubbish and take-away cartons.
Even the fridge was packed full of food which had gone mouldy.
Parkin collapsed in the dock yesterday as he was led away to start a 12-month prison sentence and was taken from the court by an ambulance.
Mr and Mrs Trotter now fear they will lose the house at North Farm, Houghton-le-Spring, as well as a second property which was where they lived with their five-year-old daughter after they were forced to meet the cost of repairs themselves because their insurance claim was rejected as they had changed from private to landlord insurance too late.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the couple had rented the farmhouse to the pensioner, who had agreed to lease it on behalf of a Chinese criminal known only as Mr Lee.
Parkin, of Bamburgh Close, Washington, paid the £1,350 monthly rent in cash he received from the criminal gang. In return Mr Lee paid him cash for his involvement in the scam.
Parkin pleaded guilty to permitting premises to be used for the production of cannabis.
Prosecutor Andrew Walker read a statement from Mrs Trotter at the sentencing hearing yesterday.
Mrs Trotter said in the document: “This whole ordeal has had a massive effect on my family and I.
“When we first saw what happened to our house we just could not believe it, it was as if it was happening to another person.
“The walls had holes in, the chimney breast had been hacked into, the smell was terrible.
“This has had a catastrophic effect on my family.
“The cost of putting right the damage was between £36,000 and £38,000 and the rental income lost was £16,000.”
Mr Trotter, a self-employed businessman, told police the family have been left “robbing Peter to pay Paul” after their insurance claim was denied and they may have to go bankrupt.
The court heard Parkin got involved with a gang after he met Mr Lee at a casino while he was on a losing streak. Mr Lee said he could make some ready cash by renting out a property on his behalf.
Parkin admitted his guilt on the basis he did not initially realise the house would be converted and used as a drugs farm.
Judge Esmond Faulks jailed Parkin for 12 months.
The Judge told him: “You must have known the premises were to be used for some illegal purpose otherwise there would be no point in having you as a front man.
“You played an important role in the establishment and continuation of a large cannabis farm.
“The court of appeal has recently stated these cannabis farms are becoming more prolific and deterrent sentences should be handed down.
“Accordingly, despite your age and infirmity, prison is inevitable.”
Bob Spragg, defending, said Parkin, who has a criminal record but has been out of trouble for over 12 years, had refused requests by Mr Lee to rent out more properties on his behalf and to deliver food to the illegal workers inside his existing farms.
The court heard Mr Lee has never been traced.