Cannabis factory was hidden in a barn at a Staffordshire farm

A MAN has been sentenced to three years and two months in prison for his part in the commercial production of cannabis at a farm in Staffordshire.

Mitchell Nicholls, 46, of Tyebeams, Shard End, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to production of cannabis on the first day of his trial at Stafford Crown Court . He was jailed for 38 months.

Nicholls was arrested in November 2017 at Heathrow Airport on a European Arrest Warrant when he flew back into the country from Switzerland. He had been on the run in mainland Europe since July 2015 as he refused to hand himself in and return to the UK. Two other men were imprisoned for a total of five years in January 2017 in connection with the offence.

He had been forensically linked through fingerprints to a highly-sophisticated hydroponic cannabis grow which had been professionally concealed in a large barn at Brackenhurst Farm, Newchurch, Burton-upon-Trent. The judge said that Nicholls played a significant role in the commercial production of cannabis at the farm.

Detectives executed a warrant at the farm on 26 March 2015. During the search 16kg of skunk flowering cannabis worth approximately £133,000 and £5,000 were seized. Officers also found a series of secret rooms which were completely concealed by hay bales and contained hundreds of cannabis plants.

Forensic scientists estimated that the plants seized had the capacity to produce 60.5kgs of skunk cannabis a year, which equated to a street value of £432,142.

A Proceeds of Crime hearing will be held on 1 June 2018. A restraining order was placed on Nicholls’ assets – property and high-value items including a Harley Davison motorcycle.

DI Lesley Fowler, of Staffordshire Police’s Major and Organised Crime team, said: “I am pleased with today’s sentencing. The arrest and subsequent conviction of Nicholls are the result of a thorough and meticulous investigation. We are determined to rid our communities of drugs and those intent on their production.”