DRUGS PAY BACK: Cannabis growing couple from the Fens who led double life by using criminal proceeds to help African charities
09:44 04 February 2013
A COUPLE from the Fens who led a double life handing out much of their drug dealing fortune to African villagers face losing their dream holiday home to pay some of the money back.
"QUOTES FROM ORIGINAL TRIAL"
Susan Cooper, 63, and her partner Michael Foster, 62, were each jailed for three years in October after transforming their farmhouse into a secret cannabis factory.
The couple, who moved to while police investigated the finances and operation of the cannabis operations- one in South Lincs and the other in Terrington St Clement- regularly flew out to Kenya where they used much of their ill gotten gains to help local villagers and charities, the court heard.
References showed the pair were regular donors to the Kwale District Eye Hospital where their cash was used to buy much needed computers. They also paid for local children to be put through school and for a life saving operation on a man’s infected leg.
Another testimonial included a photograph of Michael Foster with the “Hamisi” family who named their three-year-old son Foster because of his good work in the country.
After the couple’s incredible six year double life was exposed investigators examined their finances to see if any assets could be seized.
A proceeds of crime hearing at Lincoln Crown Court was told on Friday the couple made a benefit of £300,000 from their crimes but that Foster had no realizable assets.
The court heard Cooper had realizable assets of £59,006 which included £20,000 in cash found when police raided Home House Farm in South Lincolnshire where the couple were living.
Cooper’s remaining assets are made up of her half share in a holiday home located on Kenya’s Diani Beach, near Mombasa, valued at £39,006.
Recorder Nigel Daly told Cooper that unless the full figure of £59,006 was confiscated from her by August 1 she would face an extra prison sentence of 20 months in default.
Foster was given 28 days to pay back the nominal sum of just £1 or face one day extra in custody.
Chris Milligan, mitigating for Cooper, told the hearing Cooper was likely to remain in custody until December and may face problems selling her stake in the Kenyan property.
“The £20,000 in the hands of the police has already been disclaimed by her. The figure outstanding is £39,000. That is her share of the property in Kenya which is jointly owned between her and her brother,” Mr Milligan said.
The couple had been completely “off the police radar” when a beat officer chasing a burglar near their picture postcard home in Bridge Road, Little Sutton, noticed a distinctive cannabis smell coming from the property.
When the officer knocked on the farmhouse door Mrs Cooper answered. She replied “Yes I do” when the officer asked if she knew why he was there.
Inside police found 159 cannabis plants with an estimated street value of around £20,000. Two of the buildings had been converted into a growing room and drying room. Officers also recovered £20,000 in £1,000 bundles from a carrier bag.
Investigations showed the annual electricity bill for the Little Sutton farmhouse had risen by £2,000 which the couple explained by claiming to run a pottery business with a kiln. They were also using another growing site over the Norfolk border in Terrington St Clement.
Bank statements showed around £300,000 had been paid into the couple’s joint account over the six year period between 2004 and 2010. A further £100,000 had gone through an account held in Mrs Cooper’s maiden name.
Prosecutor Jon Dee told the sentencing hearing: “The Crown accept some of the money will not have come from drug dealing, at some point the home of Mrs Cooper’s mother was sold, but not all the money would have been paid in.”
When finally caught in June 2010 Mrs Cooper “apologised profusely” for being unable to answer police questions. Mr Foster admitted regularly selling wholesale deals of around £1,500 to one local drugs baron who was he was introduced to through a loan shark.
At their sentencing hearing Judge Sean Morris told the couple: “I have seen the pictures of your property, it was a pleasant place to live. When police raided it there was £20,000 in a carrier bag.
“Lots of money was going into your bank accounts, over a number of years hundreds of thousands went into your account.
“I am sure you were doing good things in Kenya with your drugs money, whether that was to appease your consciences I can only speculate.”
The couple, formerly of Home House Farm, Little Sutton, Lincs, admitted four charges of producing cannabis and a single offence of possessing criminal cash between March 2004 and June 2010.