Decorated former army officer ran £57,000 cannabis farm in Fife

Cupar Sheriff Court
Cupar Sheriff Court: Neil Burke has been ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service.

A former army officer who admitted running a £57,000 cannabis farm has been ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service.

Neil Burke, who was a Major in the regular army before retiring in 2008 and becoming a Quartermaster in the Territorial Army, was spotted by police leaving a suspected drugs factory in Fife.

They stopped him and could smell cannabis on the former Royal Engineer.

Police then raided the house in Kilconquhar, near Leven, and found 100 plants spread across three "established cultivations", as well as a further 100 "seedlings" in a cupboard.

Burke claimed to police that he and his family had been threatened after his godson became involved in the drugs underworld and had agreed to operate the cultivation to pay off his debts.

He claimed that on the day he was caught he had gone to "sabotage" the factory, which was equipped with growing lights and irrigation equipment and "shut it down".

Cupar Sheriff Court heard that Burke had received the Queen's Jubilee Medal, the Accumulated Service Medal and medals from the UN for his service in Kosovo and Cyprus.

A sheriff told Burke that his "personal background mitigation" had helped him avoid a prison sentence, despite guidelines stating the starting point for such a crime was a year in jail.

Fiscal depute Brian Robertson told the court the total value of the plants was in the region of £57,000.

Burke, 53, of Woodlands Crescent, Johnstone, Renfrewshire, pleaded guilty on indictment to producing cannabis at an address in Greenbrigg Road, Kilconquhar, Leven, Fife, on April 17 this year.

Joseph Shields, defending, said Burke had tried to pay off his godson's debts but had been rebuffed.

He said: "He agreed to help his godson and met the man who orchestrated the cultivation."

Sheriff Charles Macnair QC told Burke that if he had gone to trial he would have faced jail but instead placed him on a community payback order and ordered him to do 300 hours community service.

He said: "Your background is very, very different from the vast majority of people who appear for this or any similar offence. You have given the Crown loyal and good service for many years and it is always distressing when somebody of your background comes before the court for any offence, and particularly an offence of this sort.

"Your background, however, works both ways. For many offenders the reality of their existence is that it is very, very difficult for them to resist the pressure put on them.

"You are in a very different position, one where you are in a much better position to resist that pressure and report it.

"Your involvement in this was at the lower level and you had turned the power off before your arrest, and there is also your personal mitigation. Having regard to that, and your plea, it seems to me that there is a non custodial sentence available."

Sheriff Macnair also continued a Crown application under the Proceeds of Crime Act for six weeks.