Former Ballymena car salesman sent down for operating £220k cannabis factory
A Ballymena man has been jailed for 18 months for operating a cannabis factory - while also becoming the first person to be sentenced by the Crown Court for car-clocking.
Former car dealer Samuel Surgenor, from Moorfields Road, Ballymena, admitted producing cannabis and clocking the mileage of an Audi and a BMW.
Judge Desmond Marrinan told Surgenor that, with his past criminal record, particularly for drugs, "this is a case where an immediate custodial sentence is called for".
Judge Marrinan said it was recognised there was always a difference between those who are "gardeners and those who manage the operation".
Surgenor - who has previous drugs convictions both here and in Scotland, and a string of others for car-clocking - was arrested at a cannabis factory at Deerfin Road in Ballymena on December 2, 2013.
Police, who later uncovered in excess of 270 plants with a street value of up to £220,000, had been watching the outbuildings for some time. They were "under the day-to-day management of Mr Surgenor" for another "unknown male who had knowledge and overall control", the court heard.
Judge Marrinan praised the "excellent police work" in uncovering what would have been a highly profitable commercial enterprise and preventing the further release of cannabis onto the streets.
Although Surgenor denied any knowledge of the class B drugs, at his arrest he admitted: "Fair enough. I know I'm caught. The war's over."
Judge Marrinan said that while the accused later claimed he became involved to obtain cannabis oil for his stepson, who unfortunately later died, he believed that this was nonsense because the growing operation was so sophisticated.
The judge also noted earlier that there was a difference between those who operated a drugs factory out of a spare room in their home and this case, which involved a medium to large-scale commercial operation in outbuildings powered by a generator.
In total, Surgenor was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for operating the cannabis factory. He will serve 18 months in prison and the remainder on probation.
In addition, the defendant was ordered to pay compensation of just under £1,000 to a customer who bought an Audi car from him with the milometer showing 110,000 miles, when in fact the vehicle had clocked up in the region of 135,000 miles.