Sapper caught growing cannabis at home wins appeal against ‘excessive’ sentence

A former “sapper” who was sentenced to three years imprisonment after being convicted of drugs-related offences has had his custodial reduced on appeal.

The Criminal Appeal Court ruled that the sentence imposed was “excessive” and reduced it to one of 18 months.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway (pictured), sitting with Lord Malcolm, heard that on 5 January 2015, the appellant Scott Darroch pled guilty at a first diet in Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, to two linked charges.

The first was that at an address in Skelmorlie on 2 February 2014, he produced a controlled drug, namely the class B drug cannabis, contrary to section 4(2)(a) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and secondly, that he was also concerned in the supply of that drug, contrary to section 4(3)(b) of the same Act.

The circumstances were that on the date in question the police went to the appellant’s home, which was an isolated cottage, in relation to other matters.

The appellant met the police at the door and closed it behind him, but that did not conceal the “strong odour” of cannabis.

He was detained under section 23 of the 1971 Act, having refused the police permission to enter without a search warrant.

After obtaining a warrant, a search by police revealed cannabis plants growing in four areas, with associated cultivation equipment.

There were 150 plants in total - some 50 being near maturity and 100 more in a propagator.

The total value was estimated at between £20,000 and £30,000, but it was agreed before the sheriff that the cultivation and supply were not on a “commercial scale”, in the sense of being intended to produce profit.

Rather, the production was partly for the appellant’s own use and partly for use by some ex-military friends, who contributed to his cultivation costs.

The sheriff considered the criminal justice social work report (CJSWR) and a report from a psychologist, which revealed a history of service in the Royal Engineers from 2006 to 2009, in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The psychological report, in particular, described his disturbing experiences in these countries and explained his diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder.

The CJSWR suggested a community payback order as a direct alternative to custody, including a requirement of 300 hours unpaid work in the community despite the appellant’s current mental health difficulties.

However, having regard to the guidelines of the appeal court, the sheriff did not consider that such a disposal was appropriate.

The sheriff had in mind a sentence ranging between four to five years, but taking account of the special circumstances of the appellant, she determined that a headline sentence of four years was appropriate, which was discounted to three years having regard to the timing of the plea.

However, the submission made was that a custodial sentence was “not the only appropriate disposal”, set against the “exceptional circumstances” stemming from the appellant’s military background and history of recent mental health problems.

Delivering the opinion of the court, the Lord Justice Clerk said: “The court has considerable sympathy for the appellant and his current predicament following the traumatic experiences which he has had in the service of his country abroad.

“Nevertheless, as the sheriff notes, this was a significant cultivation of considerable value, notwithstanding the limited distribution network. In these circumstances a custodial sentence was the only appropriate disposal for this value of drug.”

However, the court noted that there were “substantial mitigating factors”, including the “lack of commercial enterprise”.

Lord Carloway added: “The court accepts the broad submission that the sentence was excessive. It will reduce it to one of 18 months, from a headline of 24 months.”

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