Reality TV star Kerry Katona’s ex-husband escaped jail yesterday after he admitted running a £50,000 cannabis farm from his attic to pay off his drug debts to Bolton Crown Court.
Ex-taxi driver Mark Croft, 43, was arrested after police raided his three-bedroomed semi-detached home in Bolton, Greater Manchester, on April 3 last year and found 56 plants in the loft.
Officers also found incriminating text messages linking Croft to the onward supply of the drug offering a price of £60 for 10g of cannabis ‘skunk’ weed.
One message Croft received read, ‘sound how long will it take to dry’ and in reply he texted a message saying, ‘weekend should be right’.
Another text request for drugs was met with the reply, ‘I have a few grams of cheese, think 10’, suggesting a reference to cannabis skunk.
Another message was to reference ‘£60’ indicating the price for 10 grams of drugs.
Bolton Crown Court heard the offences took place after Croft lost his luxury life of celebrity, suffered with depression and got into debt with drug dealers when he and Katona, 34, divorced in 2011.
He is currently claiming £71 a week in state benefits and is fighting the former Atomic Kitten singer for custody of their children Heidi, seven, and Maxwell, six, in the family courts.
Yesterday Croft of Over Hulton, near Bolton, admitted producing cannabis but his two year jail term was suspended for two years.
He was also ordered to complete 300 hours unpaid work, and play £210 in costs and a victim surcharge.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN LOVE: Kerry and Mark on reality TV show What’s The Problem?
He will be able to pay the bill off at £10 per week. He is about to enrol on a bricklaying course at a local college.
His counsel, Wayne Jackson, told the hearing in mitigation: “This is a situation where Mr Croft is being used by other people to run an operation.
“Due to the difficulty he has had because of his links to the celebrity culture in the past that pressure from others was brought to bear on him to have those drugs in his house.
“He was being told that this was the way to pay his debts – if not these people were going to the press and the cat would have been out of the bag.”
Mr Jackson added: “He was acting at the behest of other people. They had a hold over him even thought he had ‘a spectacular fall from grace’, being followed from day one with Kerry Katona. He has gone from a lavish lifestyle covered by TV programmes to now living on state benefits.
“He is trying to improve his life but in the background he has this. He deeply regrets being involved in the drug culture and he has given up drugs.
“He has a family and he has struggled with the deal that life has thrown at him in the last few years. He is trying his best to overcome these problems. He has managed to stop using drugs.
“He wants to retrain, an apprenticeship has been lined up, and he has children he wants to see.”
Mr Jackson told the judge: “Throw him some sort of lifeline, a lifeline to a man who has struggled for a number of years. There is a man whose life has changed both ways from start to middle to finish in a rollercoaster ride.
“No doubt it will be in the newspapers. No doubt used as a stick to beat him with in family proceedings. I invite you to take a chance with him.”
Earlier Miss Lindsay Thomas, prosecuting, said Croft was at home at the time of the police raid and confessed to officers, ‘it’s in the loft, the cannabis plants’.
They gained access to the loft via a hatch hidden behind a cupboard door and found four distinct growing areas.
In one zone there were 40 mature cannabis plants at a height of 63/64cm. When weighed the 40 plants weighed 2.01kg.
Another area of the loft, zone two, contained seven mature plants, smaller in size at between 61 and 64cm, and weighing 352grams.
There was also another part with five mature plants, which had a weight of 252grams.
The plants were analysed and a yield of 5,234 grams was identified, which at £10 a gram gave a total value of £52,340.
A water irrigation system and suspended artificial lighting was also present as well as an extraction system to masque the smell.
Also seized was a mobile phone which revealed messages asking about the crop.
Miss Thomas said it was accepted Croft was not responsible for setting up the farm, which had been in operation for a week.
Passing sentence the judge, Miss Recorder Abigail Hudson told Croft, said: “You involved yourself for financial gain. There was over £50,000 in your possession.
“You are a man of previous good character, have suffered the breakdown of your marriage. I accept you are a good father and I further accept you have struggled with your health but you did play a significant role.
“I take the view you did have some awareness of the scale of the operation and were motivated by financial rewards. I accept there was some degree of pressure brought to bear upon you by others.
“You have lived a lifestyle which is rapidly changing. I do not underestimate the fluctuations you may have had.
“As you have no previous convictions and no experience of custody. I’m willing to believe and give you the benefit of the doubt, your experience of the courts and criminal justice system will be the last.”
Story via Cavendish Press.
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