Cannabis factories would have produced skunk worth hundreds of thousands

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Cannabis factories where murder victim Murray Thompson worked could have produced skunk worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, a jury heard on Tuesday.

Following the disappearance of 34-year-old Murray in April 2010 the police uncovered properties in Watford where the drug was being grown, St Albans Crown Court was told.

DS Paul Beverley, an expert on drug valuations, said that 88 plants found in a house in Smith Street could have yielded three and a half kilos of skunk. In £10 street deals the turnover would be £35,000. He said there could be three or four harvests a year. The property had been rented out for 32 months, giving a maximum growing potential of 28 to 35 kilos with a street value of between £280,000 to £350,000.

He carried out a similar analysis of a house in Sutton Road which had been operating as a cannabis factory for nine months. He said the maximum yield there would be worth between £76,800 and £115,200.

The officer said the same principles applied to other homes used to grow cannabis - one in Garfield Street and two in St Albans Road.

“It can be big business,” he said.

The prosecution allege Murray, who was a courier for a Hemel Hempstead firm, was a cannabis gardener who was murdered by another grower in April 2010. His body was disposed of and has never been found.

He lived with his Zimbabwean girlfriend Rachel McDowell in St Peter’s Street, St Albans, where she worked for Santander bank in the city.

James Evans, 23, of Bushey Mill Lane, Watford, pleads not guilty to murdering Murray. He also denies conspiracy to produce cannabis and two counts of doing acts to pervert the course of justice.

Lee Sullivan, 47, of Hudson Road, Watford, who is said to be the “Chief Executive” of the criminal operation to grow skunk cannabis, denies perverting the course of justice and four charges of intimidating a witness.

On the afternoon of April 20, 2010, Murray arrived in his van close to a flat in St Albans Road, Watford. It was above a chemist shop and was one of five being used for the cultivation of skunk cannabis in Watford.

John Price QC prosecuting said while in the flat Murray Thompson was murdered by Evans. It was possible that a third person was also present. He said: “It is not possible to state how he died because his body has not been found.

“But whatever happened to Murray Thompson to cause his death in that flat, we do know it was something which caused him to shed a great deal of blood.”

“Having killed Murray Thompson, it was James Evans who disposed of his body.”

The prosecutor said it wasn’t known what the motive for the killing was, but he said it took place against a background of “serious, organised criminal activity involving the production for commercial supply of controlled drugs.”

The case continues.