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Two Manchester men jailed for £1.5m cannabis ‘garden centre’

by Chris Bradley. click-manchester.com
The huge haul of cannabis found in an Oldham residence The huge haul of cannabis found in an Oldham residence

Stephen Cotton, 43, and John Bilal, 48, cultivated more than 3,300 plants in Oldham and were sentenced to 21 months in prison for one of the biggest hauls of cannabis recovered by Greater Manchester Police.

Police said the pair “effectively ran a garden centre” supplying drug dealers who could set up their own cannabis farms and flood the streets with the drug.

At Minshull Street Crown Court, both men pleaded guilty to an array of charges ranging from production of cannabis to intent to supply and possession.

Cotton also pleaded guilty to another charge of possession of cocaine.

In April last year, Cotton and Bilal were arrested as they stood in the doorway of a house on Rochdale Road in Royton.

Officers on patrol noticed a strong smell coming from inside and began a search.

They discovered a tall cannabis plant and several containers with smaller plants in the bathroom.

In the front bedroom a large tent lined with silver, to stop heat seeking helicopters from seeing the criminal activity, lighting and heating was found.

Stunned by their incredible find, officers continued to search the residence.

In a back bedroom individually labelled plants “Marley”, “Blueberry”, “Cheese”, “Widow” and “Bubble” were seen growing under ceiling lighting.

Some of the plants were 60cm tall and a total of 2,492 plants were seized at Rochdale Road.

Bilal’s home on Windermere Road in Middleton was later searched and police found a further 418 cannabis plants.

At Cotton’s home in Penryn Avenue in Royton, another 480 plants were found.

The total amount of the drugs was valued at £1-1.5million if sold by the gram and between £380,000 and £690,000 if sold by the kilo.

Constable Phil Shaw of Greater Manchester Police said: “This was an incredible result not just for police but for the communities who could have otherwise found themselves swamped by these drugs.

“It was unusual because Cotton and Bilal admitted their guilt on the basis that they effectively ran a garden centre – cultivating the drugs for others who wanted to set up their own cannabis farms.

“They had quite a professional set up, with a number of different strands being grown, including one called “blueberry” which is not something we have seen in the Oldham area before and is not widely available in the UK.

“It was undoubtedly one of the biggest farms we’ve ever discovered. The prompt action of the officers on patrol who immediately realised Cotton and Bilal were acting suspiciously resulted in the discovery of this huge criminal enterprise.”

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