AN ex-soldier from Rossendale who started growing and selling cannabis to raise cash after a £60,000 long-service gratuity from the army was swallowed up by debts, has been spared jail.

Former warrant officer Colin Huetson, 42, who owed cash on credit cards, spent £3,000 on equipment to set up the cannabis farm months before the crop was found in a workshop behind the garage at his family home.

Police found harvested cannabis with a street value of £13,600 when they went to his home in Nicola Close, Bacup, on June 2, Burnley Crown Court was told.

Father-of-two Huetson, who was in the Army for 26 years, had 1.36kg of the drug in two locked rooms. When questioned, he accepted he was intending to supply cannabis to others.

He admitted possessing cannabis with intent to supply, and producing the drug, and was given 12 months in jail, suspended for 18 months, with 250 hours community service.

David Macro, prosecuting, said a police officer was tipped off that cannabis was being grown and sold at Nicola Close. He went there, Huetson’s wife was in, rang him and he later turned up. Huetson said he had been growing cannabis, but was not doing it now.

The officer asked to look in the garage, the defendant got agitated. The officer could smell cannabis from a door at the back. Huetson claimed he had no key, the officer said he would force the door and the defendant produced the key.

Mr Macro said the cannabis was found inside and a text relating to drugs supply was found on the defendant’s mobile phone.

Questioned by police, he said he had recently left the army and received nearly £60,000 as a long-service pay-off but had to pay off debts.

He decided to grow cannabis and had 80 plants. The defendant had appeared before a Court Martial in 2002, for assault causing actual bodily harm.

Richard Taylor, for Huetson, said when he left the Army he was confident he would get a job, but struggled to find work. Mr Taylor said Huetson admitted growing cannabis was the biggest mistake of his life.