'Robin Hood' couple using cannabis farm profits for Kenyan children
PUBLISHED October 18, 2012
To the impoverished Kenyan villagers, their regular visitors, an English couple in their sixties, were lifesavers.
They supported children through school, bought computers for an eye hospital nearby and paid for the amputation of a diseased leg that threatened to kill a young man.
What they did not know was that the couple's charity was funded by a "Robin Hood" cannabis operation hidden in the depths of the British countryside.
Michael Foster and Susan Cooper pocketed as much as £400,000 during the six-year operation, and spent "much of it" in Africa, a court was told yesterday. They were jailed for three years after admitting four charges of producing the drug and one relating to the proceeds.
"This couple were both in their sixties and were of previous good character," Jon Dee, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court.
"It perhaps can be best summed up by Mr Foster who told police in his own words during his interview that it had started as a hobby and turned into a business."
The couple were caught "completely by chance" when a police officer pursuing a burglar nearby recognised the distinctive smell coming from their farmhouse in Long Sutton, Lincs.
When the officer knocked on the door and asked Mrs Cooper, a 63-year-old divorcee, if she knew why he was there, she answered: "Yes I do." Inside police found 159 cannabis plants, worth an estimated £20,000.
Two of the buildings had been converted into a growing room and drying room. Officers also recovered £20,000 in £1,000 bundles from a carrier bag.
Mr Dee added: "This was a professional and commercial set-up."
A note from a man called "Jess" found in the farmhouse led police to a second property linked to the couple in the Norfolk village of Terrington St Clement.
"It gave the impression of being cleared in a hurry after the balloon had gone up in Long Sutton," Mr Dee said. "The impression of the plant pots was still on the floor."
Investigations showed the annual electricity bill for the Long Sutton farmhouse had risen by £2,000, which the couple explained by claiming to run a pottery business with a kiln.
Bank statements showed around £300,000 had been paid into their joint account over the six years between 2004 and 2010, when the operation had been running. A further £100,000 had gone through an account in Mrs Cooper's maiden name.
Mr Dee added: "The Crown accept some of the money will not have come from drug dealing. At some point the home of Mrs Cooper's mother was sold, but not all the money would have been paid in and £400,000 represents a fair assessment."
When they were caught, Mrs Cooper "apologised profusely" for being unable to answer police questions.
Mr Foster, 62, admitted regularly selling cannabis in deals of around £1,500 to a local drug dealer to whom he had been introduced through a loan shark.
Gareth Wheetman, for Foster, said that the couple had not spent the profits on lavish living.
"Much of the money was being put to charitable and good use," he said. They had paid for children from the village near Mombasa to be educated and bought equipment for the local eye hospital.
Chris Milligan, mitigating for Cooper, said: "Susan Cooper is a good person who has done a bad thing. There is another side to her, she has been a good mother, wife and partner to Mr Foster."
She had offered not just money but care to the villagers. "When a young adult called Wilson got a gangrenous infection in his leg he was given two days to live. She paid for that treatment," he said.
Passing sentence, Judge Sean Morris said that he accepted that they were a previously respectable couple of "positive good character".
But he told Foster his own cannabis habit may have led to the psychosis which contributed to his crimes. "Cannabis does that, it is a dangerous drug too often belittled," Judge Morris told the couple.
"You were growing it on a significant scale, jetting off to Kenya on it.
"I am sure you were doing good things in Kenya with your drugs money, whether that was to appease your consciences I can only speculate."