Kerry Katonas Ex Husband Mark Croft Avoids Jail After Being Caught Running 50000 Cannabis Farm
The ex husband of reality TV star Kerry Katona blamed the loss of his "lavish" celebrity lifestyle for being forced into running a £50,000 cannabis farm from his own attic.
Mark Croft narrowly avoided jail on Monday after he admitted running the drugs farm from his attic to pay off his drug debts.
Ex-taxi driver Mark, 43, was arrested after police raided his three bedroomed semi detached home in Bolton, Greater Manchester on April 3 last year and found 56 plants in the loft.
Officers also found incriminating text messages linking Croft to the onward supply of the drug, offering a price of £60 for 10g of cannabis “”skunk”” weed.
SplashKerry Katona”s ex husband, Mark Croft arrives with a friend at Bolton Crown Court
Bolton Crown Court heard the offences took place after Croft lost his luxury celeb lifestyle, suffered with depression and got into debt with drug dealers when he and Katona, 34, divorced in 2011.
He is currently claiming £71 a week in state benefits and is fighting the former Atomic Kitten singer for custody of their children Heidi, seven, and Maxwell, six in the family courts.
On Monday, Croft admitted producing cannabis but his two year jail term was suspended for two years. He was also ordered to complete 300 hours unpaid work, and pay £210 in costs and a victim surcharge.
Mark will be able to pay the bill off at £10 per week. He is about to enroll on a bricklaying course at a local college.
SplashMark clutches his coffee cup as arrives at court
His counsel Wayne Jackson told the hearing in mitigation: “”This is a situation where Mr Croft is being used by other people to run an operation. Due to the difficulty he has had because of his links to the celebrity culture in the past, that pressure from others was brought to bear on him to have those drugs in his house.
“”He was being told that this was the way to pay his debts – if not these people were going to the press and the cat would have been out of the bag.””
Mr Jackson added: “”He was acting at the behest of other people. They had a hold over him even thought he had “a spectacular fall from grace”, being followed from day one with Kerry Katona. He has gone from a lavish lifestyle covered by TV programmes to now living on state benefits.
"He is trying to improve his life but in the background he has this. He deeply regrets being involved in the drug culture and he has given up drugs.
Nov 2008: Mark Croft and Kerry Katona attends the MTV Europe Music Awards.
"He has a family and he has struggled with the deal that life has thrown at him in the last few years. He is trying his best to overcome these problems, he has managed to stop using drugs. He wants to retrain, an apprenticeship has been lined up, and he has children he wants to see."
Mr Jackson told the judge: "Throw him some sort of lifeline, a lifeline to a man who has struggled for a number of years. There is a man whose life has changed both ways from start to middle to finish in a roller coaster ride. “No doubt it will be in the newspapers. No doubt used as a stick to beat him with in family proceedings. I invite you to take a chance with him."
Earlier Miss Lindsay Thomas, prosecuting said Croft was at home at the time of the police raid and confessed to officers: “it”s in the loft the cannabis plants”." They gained access to the loft via a hatch hidden behind a cupboard door and found four distinct growing areas.
In one zone there were 40 mature cannabis plants , a height of 63/64cm. When weighed the 40 plants weighed 2.01kg. Another area of the loft – zone 2, seven mature plants, smaller in size, 61 and 64 cm and weighed 352grams. There was also another part with five mature plants and had a weight of 252grams.
The plants were analysed and a yield of 5234 grams was identified and at £10 a gram, gave a total value of £52,340. A water irrigation system and suspended artificial lighting was also present as well as an extraction system to masque the smell.
Also seized was a mobile phone which revealed messages asking about the crop. Miss Thomas said it was accepted Croft was not responsible for setting up the farm which had been in operation for a week.
Passing sentence the judge Miss Recorder Abigail Hudson told Croft: “”You involved yourself for financial gain. There was over £50,000 in your possession. You are a man of previous good character, have suffered the breakdown of your marriage. I accept you are a good father and I further accept you have struggled with your health but you did play a significant role.
“”I take the view you did have some awareness of the scale of the operation and were motivated by financial rewards. I accept there was some degree of pressure brought to bear upon you by others.
"You have lived a lifestyle which is rapidly changing, I do not underestimate the fluctuations you may have had. As you have no previous convictions and no experience of custody. I”m willing to believe and give you the benefit of the doubt, your experience of the courts and criminal justice system will be the last."