‘I grew drugs to feed family and pay mortgage’

A father of five who was €10,000 in arrears on his mortgage and struggling to feed his children grew cannabis to raise money to relieve the financial pressure he was under, a judge was told yesterday.

‘I grew drugs to  feed family and pay mortgage’

Dundalk Circuit Court heard Richard O’Connor, aged 34, had been paying an interest-only mortgage of €1,400 a month, but this was due to increase to €1,900 a month.

He admitted a single charge of cultivation of cannabis at his home at Elmwood Close, Termon Abbey, Drogheda, on Sept 19, 2011.

When Garda Amy O’Sullivan from the drugs unit at Drogheda arrived with a search warrant, the accused told her he had cannabis plants in the attic and took a key out of his pocket to unlock the room.

Garda O’Sullivan showed the judge photographs she took of the room which contained a tent-like structure.

There were heat lamps hanging from the ceiling, fans circulating the heat around the room and the windows were lined with black plastic to keep out the light, the court heard.

She said there were 108 medium-sized plants, as well as 21 smaller ones, in incubators on the floor.

He told her he had been growing them for the previous four weeks and kept the door locked to keep his family out. Garda O’Sullivan estimated they were worth €51,600, but were not of great quality.

When arrested he told gardaí he was €10,000 in arrears on the mortgage and he was having a very rough time trying to pay the mortgage and feeding his family.

The court heard O’Connor, a telecoms engineer, has always worked but had lost his job and, according to his defence counsel, things had got very serious and there was a threat of the family home being taken.

Counsel said he had, “in desperation, committed this offence”.

After the Garda raid and with legal proceedings pending, he had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to hospital. He is now working full-time and has sorted out his finances, the court heard.

Passing sentence, Judge Michael O’Shea said “this was the wrong way” to deal with his problems.

“He was in this for gain and for personal profit,” the judge said, adding that O’Connor had set up the whole operation and was in control of it.

He imposed a three-year jail sentence, but suspended it on his entering into a bond for four years. However, he warned him that if he came before the court again there would be serious consequences.

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