Wealthy aristocrat Sir Benjamin Slade quizzed by police over £1.4million cannabis farm found in his castle has ‘not yet’ been charged over the discovery despite his bank card being found on the scene, trial hears
A wealthy aristocrat has been quizzed by police over a huge cannabis farm that was discovered at a castle he owns, a jury heard.
Sir Benjamin Slade was questioned after police uncovered a £1.4million cannabis farm which was growing all over Woodlands Castle at Ruishton in Somerset.
A 39-year-old Vietnamese man who was arrested at the castle in the police raid is on trial this week for producing cannabis.
But during the case the defence barrister representing Trung Pham questioned the police officer in the case about the investigation.
PC Lisa Gentle told Taunton Crown Court that two other Vietnamese nationals were arrested at the same time as Pham – one was 16 years old and was dealt with as a juvenile and the second person was a man with no previous convictions and no action was taken against him.
Defence barrister Rupert Russell then asked PC Gentle if the castle was owned by the 7th baronet Sir Benjamin Slade which she confirmed.
Sir Benjamin Slade has been quizzed by police over a huge cannabis farm that was discovered at a castle he owns in Somerset, a jury heard during the trial of the man found at the scene
He asked her if the baronet had been questioned about the cannabis grow, and she replied: ‘Yes he has.’
She was then asked if he had been charged and the officer replied: ‘I don’t know if I am allowed to discuss that.’
Mr Russell pressed her and asked had he been charged yet, to which she replied ‘not yet’.
The officer also confirmed to the jury that a bank card in Sir Benjamin’s name was found ‘inside the premises’.
Prosecutor Susan Cavender told the jury that Pham was working as a gardener – but not tending plants at the stately home which was a former luxury wedding venue.
She said inside the castle were 3,500 cannabis plants which were stacked inside 23 rooms over three floors.
She said the top end yield of the plants was £1.4 million.
Miss Cavender told the jury that Pham claims he was being exploited as a modern slave.
The Castle: Police found 3,500 cannabis plants which were stacked inside the castle’s 23 rooms across three floors and experts estimate the haul had an upper value of £1.4million
But she said the prosecution case was he was a willing worker – and told the jury he had a previous conviction for the same offence in Norfolk from July last year.
In that case he admitted producing cannabis and was jailed for a year.
When police raided Woodlands Castle in June this year the beautiful property was surrounded by a high corrugated iron fence with a locked gate.
Officers broke in and arrested the three Vietnamese men inside. A drugs expert said the sophisticated set up of the cannabis operation would have cost around £100,000.
Miss Cavender said: ‘The house was stacked high with compost and sacks in the corridors, specialist lighting and other expensive specialist equipment to ensure the cannabis farm worked efficiently.
‘The equipment and plants were in every part of the house and extension apart from the top floor where the men had been living.’
Some phones, sim cards and banknotes were also found by police inside the castle.
Pham did not answer questions in a police interview but he did issue a prepared statement.
Trung Pham has denied producing cannabis and is on trial at Taunton Crown Court (pictured)
The jury heard Pham say that in 2019 he was brought to the UK in the back of a lorry and forced to work ‘by the mafia’.
His own business in Vietnam struggled and he borrowed money but he went bankrupt.
He said he was forced into the lorry and arrived in London and worked in Chinatown restaurants.
He said two men – one Western, the other from Vietnam – locked him in a room in London and gave him food and milk.
Pham said they later drugged him and he ended up at the castle where he was ordered to cook and clean – and would be beaten if he refused.
He claimed he had nothing to do with the cannabis farm.
He accepted having a phone and calling his wife who was also being threatened by the mafia but he did not alert police because he could not speak English.
Police drugs expert Peter Collins told the jury the electricity at the castle had not been bypassed and the usage showed up on the meter.
He said the size of the farm at the castle was one of the biggest he had dealt with in his service.
Mr Collins said: ‘It was clearly a very large well set up growth.’
He believed it would have cost nearer £100,000 to set up. He said there is a hierarchy in the drugs business structure.
He said: ‘Those at the top got get involved physically in the sale of the cannabis. At the bottom are the gardeners who are paid a wage for that.’
Mr Collins said the gardeners face the risk of discovery and added: ‘Some times they are working under some kind of threat.’
Pham was giving evidence yesterday and his trial continues.