OFFICERS who mistakenly gained access to the wrong home while on a welfare check discovered more than £20,000 worth of cannabis.

Police were called to the Trinity area of Burnley to help a man who it was reported was suicidal, but ended up instead on Piccadilly Road, which runs parallel to the correct location.

Believing there was someone inside in need of help, officers broke the home’s door down and to their surprise found 43 cannabis plants inside.

The owner of the home was later arrested and interviewed by police, where he made a preprepared statement claiming not to live at the address.

Prosecuting the case, Alison Mather said: “He said that he had allowed his friend Jamie Howarth to live there as he was homeless. That in turn led to Mr Howarth being interviewed, and he too made a preprepared statement saying that he had moved into the house in the second half of 2019 and that he was homeless and suffering from depression.

"He said he was a heavy cannabis user and had set up the farm without telling anybody, stating it had been set up for personal use.”

An estimated 2.67kg of cannabis was recovered in total, with a value of between £21-33,000, depending on how it was sold.

The owner of the house pleaded not guilty to the cultivation of cannabis and is due to stand trial for the matter next year.

Howarth pleaded guilty to the same charge at an earlier hearing.

Throughout the duration of the hearing at Preston Crown Court (Sessions House), it was heard how birthday cards and utility bills addressed to the home’s owner were found inside the house, along with other items which were believed to belong to him, including a Land Rover Defender which was parked outside.

Defending Howarth, Verity Quaite said: “My primary submission, taking into account the guilty plea and my client’s previous good character, is that this offence does fall into a range which could be suspended.

“Probation do not appear to consider Mr Howarth as being a risk to the public and he is considered at low-risk of reoffending.

“I submit that there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation – since the offence itself he has taken a number of steps to address his position. He is living in stable accommodation with his father and has an enduing relationship with his partner.

“Immediate custody would jeopardise the progress he has made in the last year. He is not a man who will trouble the courts in the future.”

Howarth, of Parkinson Street, Burnley, was of previous good character.

Jailing him for 12 months, Judge Simon Newell said: “I have to pass sentence on you for producing cannabis and it was a cannabis farm, 43 plants potential yield of 2.67kg with values in the tens of thousands of pounds.

“There is a basis of plea. You were a cannabis user, unemployed, lost your job, had significant debt and your mental and physical health deteriorated. You set up the cannabis farm to pay off your debts and more.

“I can accept you were a user and can accept you were unemployed and lost your job and can accept you may have had debts. But I have difficulty in accepting is that you alone set up this farm.

“The house from the outside was a small, terraced property and the police went to it, in an area which is not the most salubrious area of Burnley, known to have a lot of criminality. They went to the address of an welfare check but went to the wrong place. They broke the door and when they go in, it its interior totally belied its exterior.

“When the police found that cannabis farm, inadvertently and mistakenly, they took proceedings and investigated who owned the property. But then apparently you walk into the police station and tell them it was all down to you. They had no evidence against you at all.

“However, there is substantial evidence against your co-defendant. He has been charged, has pleaded not-guilty and because of Covid his trial won’t be until 2022.”

Judge Newell added: “It makes sentence very difficult because I am meant to sentence on the basis that this was your farm and yours alone. I find that very difficult to do.

“There may be a number of reasons you walked into that police station – maybe you had some involvement or maybe you did it for other reasons, but I’m very suspicious as to the fact you walked in there because this was your farm, yours entirely and decided to come clean.

“We can’t wait until next year and so I’m going to have to take a pragmatic and practical view of this situation.”

He added: “The sentence would have been one of 18 months, which I will reduce to 12. I am not going to suspend that sentence. It doesn’t seem appropriate otherwise it would allow for manipulation of the criminal justice system.”