THE ringleader of a gang which grew £400,000 worth of cannabis at three locations in Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, and Worcestershire, has been jailed for five years eight months.
Andrew O'Donnell, 34, from Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, had fled to Spain after being arrested in 2012 - but was later tracked down thanks to BBC's Crimewatch programme.
O'Donnell had pleaded guilty to conspiring to produce controlled drugs at Cinderford, Manor Farm in Tenbury Wells and Glannau Farm, near Monmouth.
One of his henchmen, Robert Ockleton, 24, of Swallow Crescent, Innsworth, Gloucester, was also in the dock with him and was sentenced to two and a half years jail for his role as a 'dogsbody' in the operation. He also admitted conspiracy to produce cannabis.
At an earlier hearing Paul Gibbard, 35, of School Mews, Matson, Gloucester, who was convicted of conspiracy after a trial, was jailed for three years eight months. His role had been to run the cannabis production at a warehouse unit in Cinderford, Forest of Dean.
An alleged fourth member of the gang, Philip Johns, 58, of Wilcae Terrace, Raglan, near Usk, who was accused of growing cannabis at his Glannau Farm, was formally cleared last month after juries at two successive trials failed to agree on verdicts.
Judge Tabor heard that the scale of the commercial cannabis growing plot was uncovered after tenants of the Forest Vale industrial estate at Cinderford smelt cannabis and reported it to police.
Officers found 371 cannabis plants growing inside. They had a street value of £184,000.
Gibbard had been tending the plantation but Ockleton had also been there.
Jason Coulter, for O'Donnell, said he denied being the mastermind of the operation, He had been recruited by others higher up the chain.
Mr Coulter described O'Donnell's role in the plot as 'senior management.'
Sarah Jenkins, for Ockleton, said he was just 'an errand boy.'
O’Donnell told the court about Ockleton: "I'm sure he won't mind if I say he was a dogsbody more than anything,"
Sentencing Ockleton, Judge Jamie Tabor said he had been influenced to reduce his prison term in view of what O'Donnell had told him.
DC Gill Ardren of Gloucestershire police said: "O'Donnell went to extraordinary lengths to initially distance himself from the large cannabis farms he set up in Cinderford and near to Monmouth. He then rented a house near Tenbury Wells and buried five large container units in the grounds before carrying out industrial scale production of cannabis. When police searched this property they not only found the cannabis, but also a quantity of CS spray and body armour.
"After his initial arrest in July 2012, O'Donnell was bailed prior to charge and fled to Spain. With the assistance of Crimewatch and Interpol he was arrested in September of last year living under a false name at house in a small town near Malaga, and extradited back to England. It is an indication that O'Donnell knew his luck had run out, by pleading guilty at the first opportunity.
"Robert Ockleton was O'Donnell's assistant and helped to construct the cannabis farms.
"We were pleased to work closely with our colleagues in Gwent and West Mercia to ensure the success of this lengthy enquiry.
"The sentences indicate the seriousness of the offences committed by these two men, and will hopefully deter others who think this is a 'low risk, low sentence' crime."