Father and son leasing agents jailed after £250k cannabis farms found at their South Shields properties

Sukdave  and Manroup Shabilla
Sukdave and Manroup Shabilla

A father and son have been put behind bars after commercial scale cannabis farms were found growing inside their rental properties.

Leasing company agents Sukdave Shabilla, 47 and Manroup Shabilla, 27, said they "turned a blind eye" while sophisticated operations, worth up to a total of a quarter-of-a-million pounds, were set up at three addresses which were under control of their firm in South Shields.

The pair, who ran HB Lettings in the town, claim they were forced into taking part in the illegal set-up under threats of violence which included live bullets and a petrol bomb being left a the family home and even an allegation, which was reported to the police, that Shabilla jnr was kidnapped.

Judge Stephen Earl said despite the "pressure and coercion", both men "accepted the risk of prosecution" when they got involved in the cannabis plot and could have reported the whole story to the police.

He sentenced both the father, who previously played hockey for England under 18s, and the son, who went on to become a successful car sales executive, to two years imprisonment.

Judge Earl told them: "In this matter, and indeed one of the purposes of sentencing, leaving aside that or rehabilitation and punishment, one needs to send a message that turning a blind eye or indeed allowing premises in circumstances such as this to be used for the evil that cultivation of cannabis on this scale represents, can only be met by an immediate prison sentence.

"The cultivation on this scale has a significant impact on people, on a community and of risks to that community from that operation."

Prosecutor Caroline Goodwin told the court two Vietnamese "gardeners" have already received prison sentences for involvement in the farms.

A man believed to link the South Shields farms to an illegal operation in London has not been traced, despite efforts by Northumbria Police and the Metropolitan force.

Miss Goodwin told the court the first farm was found in January 2014 at Beaufront Street in South Shields and contained 216 plants as well as two bags of skunk cannabis weighing just over five kilos.

On April 3 that year, police were called to Dean Terrace in the town.

Miss Goodwin said: "That came about as a result of a complaint of kidnap that was made by Manroup Shabilla about events that had taken place in respect of himself."

During that investigation, police found 12 cannabis plants, which Shabilla jnr accepted were his.

Five days later, police searched a property at Dacre Street and found 250 cannabis plants in the process of growing.

And in August 2014 detectives went back to the Dean Terrace address and found a farm containing 268 plants, with a "Vietnamese gardener" looking after the crop.

Miss Goodwin said all three major farms, which were at premises under the control of the lettings agency, were running at a "commercial level".

Cannabis plants found inside a property in Dean Terrace

Cannabis plants found inside a property in Dean Terrace

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce a Class B drug.

Chirstopher Knox, defending Shabilla snr, of Beaconside, South Shields, said only "in the world of fiction" would police protection have sorted out the threats, which included the petrol bomb, live bullets and kidnap plot.

Mr Knox said: "There are people who know he can be put under pressure. These people have operated these farms.

"There is a London link to all this."

Mr Knox said Shabilla snr is "not well off" and has been living in fear of reprisals.

Shaun Routledge, also defending, said Shabilla jnr, of Australia Grove, South Shields, has not worked for the lettings agency since 2014 and has done well working in the motor trade as a sales executive.

Mr Routledge said Shabilla jnr, who is a talented pianist and sound engineer, poses a "low risk or harm to the public and a low risk of re-offending".

Both men handed in files of references to their positive characters from respected members of the community.

Police in Dacre Street, South Shields, after a cannabis farm was found at a property.

Police in Dacre Street, South Shields, after a cannabis farm was found at a property.