The drugs factory on Whittingham Lane

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A MAN claimed he had no idea his home in Goosnargh was being used as a drugs factory, a court heard.

John Wallbank said he knew nothing about the cannabis plants being grown in his garage, or the drugs strewn around a 'drying room' in an upstairs bedroom of the imposing detached house on Whittingham Lane.

The unemployed 59-year-old told police he had allowed a man he met in a pub to use the garage and house to set up a car paint spraying business - and didn't have a clue the real business being carried out was the cultivation of the class C drug.

But Wallbank failed to convince magistrates of his ignorance - and ended up with a hefty fine following a trial at Preston.

Raided

Police raided the property following a tip-off from a neighbour, a retired Canadian police detective who Wallbank had asked to keep an eye on the house at times when he was away.

Neighbour Mr Bill Cloney told the court he saw Wallbank and three other people clearing out the garage in September 2004, and later noticed that the garage windows had been 'blacked out' with plastic sheets.

Over the next few months Mr Cloney said he saw Wallbank visit the house on a number of occasions.

He had a habit of coming to the house for a few days, staying up to a week, then disappearing for several weeks'' said Mr Cloney.

On some of the visits Wallbank was accompanied by the three other people who had helped clear out the garage, who Mr Cloney knew to be Andrew Hardman, his son Samuel and Samuel's girlfriend, who he believed to be called Sonia.

Samuel Hardman and his girlfriend would also visit on their own, often every two or four days, and disappear into the garage.

It was during one of these visits that Mr Cloney's suspicions were aroused and he looked inside the garage through the open side door.

He said: "I saw Sonia's back, she was standing amongst a large quantity of what I recognised as marijuana plants.

"There was extensive lighting and multiple plants - it looked to me like a small-scale but quite professional marijuana factory.''

Mr Cloney called the police, who obtained a warrant and raided the house on January 18 last year.

PC Paul Taylor told the court that inside the house there was a "very strong smell of cannabis'' even in the kitchen downstairs. Upstairs police found one of the front bedrooms was full of cannabis bush, hanging on washing lines and laid out on the bed to dry, with a heater left switched on to keep the room warm.

The garage at the rear of the house was full of mature cannabis plants. The garage had been almost completely sealed with thick black plastic sheeting and had been fitted with four electric lighting units, as well as timing and watering devices.

Fingerprint evidence led police to arrest Andrew Hardman, his son and his son's girlfriend in June last year. All three were subsequently convicted and given curfew orders after admitting being involved in the production of cannabis.

At the time Wallbank was living at the same address as the Hardmans in Kent Street, Preston. He was also arrested but denied all knowledge of the drug operation at his Goosnargh house.

In interview he told police he met a man called Bert Jackson in a Preston pub, who needed somewhere to do up cars.

Wallbank said he gave the man the keys to both the garage and the house in Goosnargh. Wallbank told police: "He seemed quite an honest fellow.''

Wallbank said he had been living in Preston and only visited Whittingham Lane to collect mail. He admitted helping to put up the black plastic sheeting in the garage but thought it was to protect the walls from paint spraying.

Later Wallbank told officers that Bert Jackson could, in reality, be Andrew Hardman "using an alias''.

He said: "He told me his name was Bert Jackson, but it could be Andrew Hardman''.

Miss Victoria De-mel, defending Wallbank, asked him how he felt when he heard the house was being used to grow cannabis. Wallbank replied: "I was flabbergasted - I have never been into drugs. I had no idea. If I had known what was going on I would never have let him use the garage.''

Giving evidence at Wallbank's trial, Andrew Hardman, of Kent Street, Preston, also claimed in court that Wallbank knew nothing of what he and his son were doing at Whittingham Lane.

He said: "We moved him to Preston to keep him out of the way. I feel very sorry that I put him through this. We hoodwinked him. I am adamant that he didn't know what was going on''.

But magistrates did not believe that Wallbank had no knowledge or suspicion about the drug activities.

Finding him guilty of allowing premises to be used for the cultivation of cannabis, chairman of the bench Mr Eamonn McNamara told Wallbank: "It is clear that the premises at Whittingham Lane were being used for the cultivation of drugs.

"Even though you went back there several times you say at no time did you ask questions about what was happening. It is our opinion that you knew, or at least chose not to know, what was going on and to say otherwise is stretching credulity beyond belief.''

Wallbank was fined 300 and ordered to pay court costs of 364.