AN ANDOVER man who was found with 17 cannabis plants worth more than £13,000 in his flat has avoided prison after a judge decided to ‘give him a chance’.

Norman Stringer, of Rack Close, was handed a suspended sentence at Winchester Crown Court today (April 1) for production of a Class B drug, cannabis, and possession with intent to supply.

The 51-year-old Poundstretcher employee was found with a host of drug paraphernalia, despite already serving two years in prison for a similar offence, but the judge considered a sentence in the community to be more effective due to the many ‘difficulties’ in his life.

Mr Dyer, prosecuting, told the court that on May 1 2020, police arrived at Stringer’s one-bedroom flat where he lives alone with his dog, on an “unrelated matter” at 4.53am.

On arrival, officers found cannabis with a street value of more than £13,000, as well as more than 1.5kg of cannabis resin and more than £4,000 in cash.

Three cannabis growing tents were set up in the property with a total of 17 plants.

Scales, a cannabis grinder, around 1,400 vacuum-packed “deal bags” and a diary, detailing different varieties of cannabis and their progress, were also seized.

Cannabis resin was also discovered in the fridge and freezer, as well as slates of cannabis extract, and cannabis seeds.

Mobile phones found showed clear evidence, through messages, of cannabis production and dealing, including reference to making a “killer batch” of cannabis cupcakes.

“This is clearly an operation with several customers. There is a lot of cannabis involved on this occasion,” said Mr Dyer.

He described it as not being industrial level, but a “large cottage industry” and Stringer’s own enterprise.

Reference was made to a large number of convictions between 1984 and 2009, although only the most recent offence in 2009 was cannabis-related, and led to two years' imprisonment.

In mitigation, Mr Ilozue, defending, highlighted how his client admitted guilt at first opportunity.

He said: “We cannot dispute that this crosses the custody threshold. My aim is to persuade you that the court can and should suspend.

“My client does not present a risk or a danger to the public. He has no history of non-compliance with court orders.”

Mr Ilozue told the court how the defendant had grown up in an “abusive household” at the hands of his father, and turned to drugs at the age of 11.

Then, on becoming a father himself, he “suffered the devastating loss of a young son who tragically took his own life”, while his other children suffered complex health conditions.

He added that Stringer had been “candid” about his offences and was “willing” to engage in rehabilitation to address his own drug use.

He has been working at Poundstretcher for two and a half years, and is “held in high regard” by colleagues and customers.

Mr Ilozue presented the court with a “bundle” of character references, including from a neighbour who described Stringer as “a friend” and” kind”, as well as from long-time customers who said they “valued his advice and friendship”.

He concluded by outlining the “devastating impact” a custodial sentence would have on his client, namely the loss of his job, home, and dog, and the “challenges” of his own health conditions.

Recorder James Watson QC said he must weigh up how much the offence was “driven by addiction” and how much by “commercial gain”.

He called the previous conviction for a similar offence a “dominant aggravating factor”, but added: “You have kept out of trouble for a decade or more and you have difficulties in your own life which may explain in part the way in which you have fallen back into that previous pattern of offending.”

Addressing Stringer, Recorder Watson noted that his previous prison sentence “did not include any constructive attempt to deal with your drug addiction” and therefore that the case for a suspended sentence was “powerful”.

Issuing a 14 month concurrent custodial sentence to cover both offences, suspended for 18 months, Recorder Watson said: “I am, frankly, giving you a chance. It is a chance that you were not given in 2009. You will be aware that chances only come once.”

Stringer was also ordered to complete a six-month intensive drug rehabilitation programme, 15 rehabilitation activity days and 130 hours of unpaid work, as well as forfeit all of the cash, drugs and paraphernalia seized.