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Ex-traffic warden 'too ill to argue with friend' about cannabis factory in Portstewart bedroom, court told

A former traffic warden in Northern Ireland who has been sentenced for the cultivation of thousands of pounds worth of drugs in his Portstewart flat claimed he was "too ill" to argue with a friend who set up a cannabis factory in an unused bedroom.

Donald Leighton (50), of Ardmore Drive, previously admitted charges of cultivating cannabis and possessing the Class B drug and at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday he was given four months in jail, suspended for two years.

A prosecutor said police believed the plants could have yielded cannabis worth between £2,800 and £13,000.

Police searched the ground floor flat on February 9 last year when Leighton was present and discovered one of the two bedrooms was converted to grow cannabis in tents with fertiliser and lamps. Some cannabis was found in a tray.

Leighton was arrested and during interview said he was the sole occupant of the house.

The defendant claimed that four weeks earlier a friend he had known for 35 years asked him if he could use the property to put up a growing tent and he was "too ill to argue".

He claimed he did not know cannabis was being grown and said he received no reward from the other man who had keys to the flat.

The prosecutor said 13 plants were found with flowering heads worth £135.

She added that police believed the drugs had been recently harvested and moved on and that the plants could have yielded between £2,800 and £13,000 worth of cannabis.

Leighton had a record mostly for motoring offences.

Defence barrister Francis Rafferty said the defendant had initially also been charged with possessing cannabis with intent to supply but that was withdrawn.

He said Leighton was "something of a loner" and said there was no doubt he was "being used".

Mr Rafferty alleged that when police arrived at the flat a man was inside a tent harvesting drugs but was never charged.

Mr Rafferty said Leighton had "turned a blind eye" to what was happening in the bedroom.

Sentencing the former traffic warden, who used to work in Ballymoney, to four months in jail, suspended for two years, District Judge Liam McNally said he took into account the guilty plea and the lack of a similar previous record.

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