A 28-year-old gardener who walked off the street to confess to police he was involved in growing cannabis and drug dealing, was freed last Thursday on a 12-month suspended jail term.
Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan told Christopher Warnock, of Moneybrannon Road, in Aghadowey, that if ever there was a case to temper justice with mercy, his was such a case.
He added he had “no hestitation” in suspending his sentence for three years.
However, Judge Marrinan jailed 46-year-old Robert James McNeill, whose rented home in Mill Lane, was used to grow what he termed “God’s plant”.
McNeill who spent six months in custody awaiting trial, was given an additional four months, plus a further 14 months on supervised licensed parole.
The judge said whatever McNeill’s unconventional past views, “he has turned the corner in his life and is not a high risk of reoffending”.
Prosecutor Rose Anne McCormick said that in December last year Warnock walked into Coleraine police station and told them how McNeill offered him a job as gardener, looking after two “growing rooms” of cannabis in his garage.
Later he also took some drugs to the Newtownabbey area of County Antrim, where he sold them, returning a week later to collect £750.
McNeill had told Warnock he was going to live in the US and offered to let him take over the operation. However, it was following a threat from McNeill to tell Warnock’s parents, that he went to police.
Ms McCormick said that on foot of Warnock’s information, police raided McNeill’s home and uncovered drugs and monies in and around the house. When first approached, McNeill told them; “Its God’s plant”, and that he was selling £500 worth of cannabis each week.
McNeill also told police he initially hoped to marry his girlfriend in Spain, but ultimately wanted to go to America where he would obtain a licence for growning marijuana, which would be his “dream job”.
Warnock’s defence lawyer Francis Rafferty said while his client was “scared for his family and was scared for himself, his conscience also came into the mix”, telling police “chapter and verse”, after finding himself “in a situation over which he had no control”.
Mr Rafferty claimed McNeill had a “Svengali” type influnce over Warnock, described in reports as a someone of low esteem, leaving him vulnerable and wanting to please others. Warnock, he said, “got absolutely nothing out of it, not one red cent”.