Men lose appeal over Castle Bytham cannabis farm convictions

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Two men who were jailed for running a cannabis farm near Castle Bytham have lost an appeal against their conviction and sentences at the Appeal Court.

Iain Brown, 61, who owned Angel Wells Farm, where the cannabis was grown, was jailed for eight years in March 2012 after Stafford Crown Court found him guilty of conspiracy to produce and supply cannabis worth up to £2.75m in November 2011.

Desmond Bayliss, 32, of Hartington Road, Toxteth, Liverpool, was also sentenced to eight years in prison for the same offences.

The pair were part of a gang of nine involved in the plot to create a giant cannabis production unit at the farm which was housed in barns and out-houses on a site the size of two football pitches.

Sir Hugh Bennett, who dismissed both the conviction and sentence challenges, described a highly sophisticated set-up at the farm, comprising pumps, industrial generators, an independent water supply and fuel tanks.

The production line was in its first year, he told the court, but was expected to yield 275kg of high quality cannabis, bringing in £2.75m.

A detective involved in the case said it was the largest ever enterprise of its kind in the UK.

Brown, of West Wittering, West Sussex, worked in Chichester for most of the time, the court heard, but rented out units on the farm to the growers.

Bayliss was a one-time actor, well known for playing “hardman” characters, who turned to crime after his thespian career fizzled out.

He once starred as a crimelord opposite Ray Winstone in a dark ITV crime thriller, and then opposite Clive Owen as a villain called Cannibal in a cult film.

The duo’s lawyers argued that their trial was unfair because of the inadequate disclosure of certain evidence in the case - including incomplete covert surveillance logs.

But Sir Hugh Bennett, sitting with Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice MacDuff, rejected the challenge, holding that there was “no arguable case to put before the court”.

Also rejecting their sentence challenges, he said the trial judge was entitled to find that Brown played a “leading role” in the conspiracy.

“Without landowners who have facilities of this size such conspiracies might well never come to anything,” he commented.

Bayliss’ lawyers said he was “lower down the food chain” in terms of criminal responsibility.

But Sir Hugh pointed out that he had been described as the ringleader’s “right-hand man”, adding: “He was involved in the organisation and planning of the enterprise”.

The sentencing judge’s approach could not be faulted, he said.