Pubdate: 28 Apr, 1999
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: The Scotsman Publications Ltd 1999
Author: John Robertson,  Law Correspondent


Judge Shows Leniency After References Speak Highly Of Offender

A CHARACTER reference from Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, helped save one of his constituents from jail yesterday on
a charge of growing almost UKP10,000 worth of cannabis.

The letter from Mr Brown, MP for Dunfermline East, was included in a
number of testimonials produced on behalf of John Penman, 49.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard that the MP and others had spoken
highly of Penman as someone with the ability to make a positive
contribution to society. Mr Brown stressed that he did not condone
Penman's offence of cultivating the drug for his own use.

After studying the letters, the judge, Lord Cowie, decided he could
spare Penman a prison term and ordered him to do 300 hours of
community service.

At an earlier hearing Penman, of Lochleven Terrace, Kelty, Fife,
admitted producing cannabis between 1 December, 1997 and 8 April, 1998
at his home.

The Crown accepted his not guilty pleas to other charges of being
concerned in the supplying of cannabis and possessing amphetamine.
Sentence had been deferred for background reports.

Lord Cowie was told that during a drugs initiative by Fife Police,
officers received information that Penman was growing cannabis plants
at his house. After obtaining a search warrant, detectives went to his
home on 8 April and found him in a bedroom with a piece of growing
equipment and a book on how to cultivate marijuana. A search of the
loft revealed a hydroponics growing system, two plants in grow trays
and 15 parts of plants hanging up to dry. There was also a quantity of
other growing equipment and plant matter.

More dry plant material was found in a second bedroom and the police
determined that, in all, Penman had produced ten cannabis plants.

The accused insisted that it had been for his own use. He said he had
not expected the plants to do so well, and admitted that the police
had discovered his second crop.

The court was told that a total of almost 2kg of plant material had
been recovered during the search and drugs squad officers gave it the
potential street value of UKP9,920. Penman said he had used only the
flower heads of the plants which contained the strongest active
chemical ingredient. He had smoked the cannabis and used it in baking
and for mixing with yoghurt.

The defence solicitor advocate, Alex Prentice, told the court that a
number of references had been produced for Penman including one from
"the appropriate member of parliament".

Mr Prentice said: "None of them condones what he did but the
references indicate that he is someone who has a significant
contribution to make in a positive way."

It was stressed that Penman, a first offender, had not been growing
the cannabis to supply it to others. Mr Prentice said the accused had
been given cuttings and had cultivated them to acquire a store of
cannabis for his personal use.

"Following the police attending at his house, he became very
distressed. Since their visit he has not used drugs of any kind, nor
has he been in trouble," said Mr Prentice.

Penman was currently studying at college in Glenrothes and there was
no likelihood of his offending again.

Lord Cowie told Penman: "This was extremely foolish
behaviour on your part. For a man who apparently has been of
great service to the community and is obviously well thought
of by a lot of people, to do something like this is quite

The courts are not allowed to jail first offenders unless convinced
that there is no alternative sentence available. Lord Cowie said he
took into account that Penman would not be tempted to offend again in
a similar way and added: "This would normally result in a custodial
sentence but in all the circumstances, and taking account of all the
references before me, I have decided to make a community service order
for 300 hours."
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