Tumbulgum bunker drug grower wins sentence reduction

FROM the outside, retirees John and Rhonda Crawford appeared to be living a normal, quiet life, but the garden shed on their 70 acre property at Tumbulgum was housing a dark secret.

When police raided the Colourbond shed in May, 2010, a manhole, accessible via a ladder, led them to a sophisticated underground cannabis factory.

Inside three rooms - the first used as a seedling and cutting raising area, the second as a growing room where many plants had been harvested and the third fitted out with a hydroponic watering system - police found a total of 204 cuttings, 25 medium plants, 168 mature plants and 91 seedlings.

Artificial lighting, various ventilation extraction fans, growing solution, scales, fertilisers and resealable plastic bags were also found.

The Crawfords were arrested at the scene.

While Mr Crawford had no criminal record in NSW, police found he had been convicted over a "remarkably similar" set up in Queensland in the early 90s.

At the time, the court heard he had bought a rural property and set up an underground hydroponic system to make up for financial losses he suffered during the economic recession.

He was sentenced to five years but released on parole after 12 months.

In May, 2011, Crawford pleaded guilty in the Lismore District Court to cultivating and supplying a commercial quantity of cannabis and was sentenced to nine years jail, with a non-parole period of six years and nine months.

An appeal against the severity of the sentence was heard in Sydney this week.

The Criminal Court of Appeal heard the Crawfords had been happily married for 43 years and had three adult children.

It was noted Crawford had been "quite explicit in conceding that he was intent on financial gain alone" but also that he had been a "co-operative (prison) inmate…abided by routine, engaged in employment and was interested in pursuing studies".

His son was said to have been diagnosed with a "significant and disabling" disease which make it difficult for him to travel from the Gold Coast to the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre where Crawford is kept.

The panel found that as Crawford had chosen to replicate his offending, personal and general deterrence was important but agreed the sentence should be reduced by one year.

Crawford will now be eligible for release in December, 2015.

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