Sheffield Crown Court heard this week how two sons and their parents were part of an eleven-strong gang from Swinton, Rotherham and Mexborough who were linked to cannabis harvests at properties across South Yorkshire that yielded thousands of pounds in profits.
David Gordon, prosecuting, said Robert Coward, aged 39, of Telson Close, Swinton, Rotherham, was at the centre of the gang and recruited others for their premises to be used as cannabis farms in a commercial enterprise with the laundering of proceeds.
Judge Graham Reeds QC told Robert Coward: “You were at the centre of a significant and long-running conspiracy to grow cannabis and sell it for profit.”
Robert Coward pleaded guilty to conspiring to produce cannabis between February, 2010, to February, 2018, and to conspiring to acquire and convert criminal property between April, 2010, and April, 2016.
His parents Michael Coward, aged 68, and Lynn Coward, aged 66, of Toll Bar Road, Swinton, Rotherham – who are also grandparents – both admitted conspiring to acquire and convert criminal property between April 2010, and April 2016, as part of the operation and to being the occupiers of a property, namely Lynn’s Chippy, on Main Street, where they allowed the production of cannabis in a flat.
Mr Gordon said the flat was found by police with remnants of a cannabis grow for which Michael and Lynn Coward’s other son Thomas Coward accepted responsibility.
Thomas Coward, aged 37, of St Margaret’s Drive, Swinton, Rotherham, pleaded guilty to conspiring to produce cannabis between February, 2010, and February, 2018, after growing equipment was also found in a vehicle and he admitted possessing criminal property after he was found with an undeclared income of £43,929 concerning income tax evasion.
Judge Reeds said the parents had shared the profits of the trade in what appeared to have become “a business for close members of the family”.
Mr Gordon added Robert Coward and his wife’s accounts revealed £227,969 worth of unexplained credit and there were unexplained cash deposits concerning Michael and Lynn Coward totaling £54,799.
Judge Reeds said: “The term ‘cottage industry’ fails to capture the true value of the conspiracy. For this was an enterprise, when looked at overall, producing significant quantities of cannabis for commercial use.”
The court heard hard-working Robert Coward and supportive Michael Coward have expressed remorse and hard-working Thomas Coward only has spent previous convictions.
Judge Reeds sentenced Robert Coward on April 7 to three years and nine months of custody, Thomas Coward to 46 weeks of custody and Michael Coward to 33 weeks of custody.
A tearful Lynn Coward – having seen her husband and two sons led away – was told by Judge Reeds he recognised she provided “hands-on-care” for five of her 11 grandchildren and if she was jailed this would have affect her family.
So Judge Reeds spared Lynn Coward from jail and sentenced her to 22 weeks of custody suspended for 18 months with a 22-week curfew.
Five other gang members who pleaded guilty to conspiring to produce cannabis and two who were found guilty of conspiring to produce cannabis after a trial are to be sentenced on April 8.