Login Register

Depressed drug factory couple must sell house to pay back cash

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: December 19, 2013


Julie Watmough

Comments (0)

A couple who ran an industrial-scale cannabis growing operation are being forced to sell the building after being stripped of all their assets.

Julie and Harry Watmough have been given an extra six months to repay £125,000 which they have been ordered to hand over under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The couple, who ran a cannabis farm at Burlescombe, near Tiverton, went back to Exeter Crown Court to ask for more time to pay because they have been unable to sell their home, which is their principle asset.

Judge Francis Gilbert, QC, adjourned the confiscation case until June after being told the house is on the market for £285,000.

Drugs squad officers believe the couple could have made up to £200,000 a year out of the cannabis growing operation, which started when Julie Watmough began growing a small amount for herself.

She was using cannabis to help her cope with the death of her son in a horrific car crash but found she was so green-fingered she turned her hobby into a cottage industry.

Her husband Harry used his struggling garage business to launder the profits.

Julie, aged 49, was jailed for three years in February last year but has already been freed on early release. Her husband received a suspended sentence.

At a POCA hearing in June the court assessed Julie Watmough’s benefit from crime at £110,000 and her husband’s at £100,000. She was ordered to repay £62,044.89 and he was told to repay £63,810.45.

They are both liable to serve two years in jail if the money is not repaid.

Mr Joss Ticehurst, defending, told the Judge they had expected to have complied with the order by now but had failed to sell the house.

He asked for an extension of six months and said:”I am told the house is on the market for £285,000.”

Judge Gilbert commented:”Their ability to sell may depend on their enthusiasm for doing so and the price.”

The original hearing was told how Julie Watmough started growing the drug to help her cope with the grief after her son was killed in a horrific fireball car crash.

She and her husband expanded the operation into a big business and made large amounts of cash by selling the drugs.

The operation in the attic of their country cottage was so large they used £13,000 worth of electricity keeping the growing plants warm and running fans and ventilators to remove the fumes.

Mrs Watmough started growing cannabis after the death of her 18-year-old son David Kerslake when his car crashed on the way back from a night out in Exeter in 2006.

She suffered depression as a result of the bereavement and gave up her job as a shop worker. Her husband Harry’s garage business was failing and she then supported the family through growing and selling cannabis.

Watmough admitted producing cannabis and possessing the drug with intent to supply. Her husband admitted concealing, disguising, converting or transferring the proceeds of crime and being concerned in her production of cannabis.

She was jailed for three years by Judge Phillip Wassall and he was jailed for 12 months, suspended for two years and ordered to do 300 hours unpaid community work.

Police raided the couple’s home in December 2010 and noticed a strong smell of cannabis coming from the loft where they found 189 plants.

Experts estimated the likely size of the crop as 4.8 kilograms with a maximum value of £50,000. That meant a potential annual income of up to £200,000, based on a yield of four crops a year

The couple used £13,000 electricity over the two years and paid off £20,000 of their mortgage. Police found electrical items and consumer goods at the house which were through to have been bought with drugs money.

Defence lawyers insisted the profits were not as high as police estimated and amounted to just £30,000 a year. They said the operation was “a cottage industry”.

Do you have something to say? Leave your comment here...

max 4000 characters