An obsessed cannabis grower in Great Torrington was caught after residents complained to police about the horrible smell from his ‘skunk’ farm.

Neil Sydenham, aged 59, was so proud of his 71 cannabis plants that he took pictures of them on his mobile phone which police found when they raided the house in New Street.

They also found a single message on another mobile ordering a Christmas supply of the home-grown cannabis and a reply asking the customer to be more discreet in the future.

He was growing a strong strain of cannabis which is known as skunk because of its pungent smell.

Sydenham had more than three kilograms of it in bin bags and £15,000 in cash.

He had given up his job as a supermarket shelf stacker years before, had no income, but claimed the money was his life savings.

He also had a small stock of cannabis oil which he used to treat back pain which he claimed to result from moving heavy loads as a van driver.

Sydenham admitted production of cannabis and cannabis oil and was jailed for a year and 10 months, suspended for two years.

He was also ordered do 10 days of rehabilitation activities, 150 hours unpaid community work and to pay £1,200 costs by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.

The fate of the £15,805 seized by the police will be decided later.

The judge told him: "You may benefit from doing unpaid work instead of sitting at home using cannabis all day.

"These offences came to light when the tell-tale strong smell from your extensive cannabis growing operation gave it away.

"You set up growing areas in more than one part of your property and it is quite clear you invested time, effort and resources into growing, harvesting and extracting oil.

"I accept that you were not living a life of luxury and may have been producing a drug to which you were addicted. Like so many long-term cannabis users, it seems to have become something of an obsession."

Police raid

Caroline Bolt, prosecuting, said police raided Sydenham's home on September 27, 2018, after residents tipped off police about the smell.

They found 13 mature plants in his bedroom, 58 more in earlier stages of growth, 3.05 kilograms of harvested cannabis, and 20 ml of cannabis oil. They seized £14,308 from the bedroom and £1,425 in the kitchen.

Miss Bolt said: "Two phones were seized. His Motorola had pictures of harvested cannabis and plants. A Nokia believed to belong to his partner, had a message from December 24, 2017 asking if Neil had any weed for sale.

"The reply read 'yes, hun, but next time don't ask like that in a text."

'Pride in it'

Rupert Taylor, defending, said Sydenham grew mainly so he could make his own cannabis oil to treat back pain, but gave some of the surplus to friends.

He said: "He had a genuine interest in horticulture. He wanted to do a good job and took photographs of it. It was more than a money-making exercise or providing his own supply.

"He took some pride in it. He wasn't a gangster. He injured his back, lost his job and did not want to buy from dealers."