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'Back injury' cannabis grower escapes jail

AN EAST Belfast man who claimed he smoked up to nine cannabis joints a day to help with a back injury has avoided going to prison.

Michael Gowdy (49), of Parkgate Avenue, was told by a judge that he would not interfere "with the positive steps'' he had recently taken to beat his "chronic addiction to cannabis'' and suspended a 20-month prison sentence for three years.

Gowdy pleaded guilty to a total of four counts of cultivating cannabis and possession cannabis plants on two separate dates.

Belfast Crown Court heard Gowdy had 14 cannabis plants in his loft, along with irrigation, lamps and timing equipment during a police search on January 30, 2016.

Police estimated the plants were worth around £14,000.

At interview, Gowdy made the case that the drugs were for his personal use and said he smoked up to four ounces of the drug per week and the drugs seized would have lasted him for four months.

The court heard while awaiting trial on those offences, police forced entry to his home on February 6 this year and found "five fully grown plants'' in one room. In a back bedroom they located a number of smaller plants.

Prosecution barrister Gareth Purvis said Gowdy had two previous convictions for drug offences: in 1992 he was jailed for three years in France for transporting cannabis and in 1995 he was jailed at Belfast Crown court for two and a half years for dealing in drugs.

Jugde Miller said the aggravating factors in the case where Gowdy's two previous drug convictions and the fact he committed further offences in February this year while awaiting trial for the offences in 2016.

Judge Miller said that although the custody threshold had been passed, he had decided to suspended the 20 month jail term to allow him to continue with his work with addiction services.

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