A STUDENT who ran a cannabis factory which could have produced £120,000 worth of powerful skunk has been jailed for two years.

Mitch Thomas also stole almost £11,000 worth of electricity after the meter was bypassed to power the hydroponics set up in the house.

Claire Marlow, prosecuting, told Swindon crown court police went to the property on Eastern Avenue on Monday September 16 last year after receiving information.

When they looked through the window at the three bed semi, although the curtains were drawn, they could see some plants and there was a strong smell of cannabis.

The 29-year-old answered the door and when officers went inside they found three upstairs bedrooms and a utility room were been used for the cultivation of drugs.

Miss Marlow said there were 144 plants ranging in height from 72cm to 110cm, which could have produced up to 12kg of skunk.

Officers also spotted the electricity had been rewired to bypass the meter, cheating the power suppliers out of almost £11,000 When he was questioned the defendant told officers that he lived alone at the property having taken out a six month tenancy and paid the rent, at £850 a month, up front.

Thomas, now of Lyncombe Hill, Bath, pleaded guilty to producing cannabis and abstracting electricity.

Robin Shellard, defending, said his client was a student and had made the foolish decision to get involved in the scheme to pay off his debts.

He said he had been persuaded by a friend of a friend to allow the house to be used by the other man, who planted and harvested the drugs and sold the drugs.

"For the majority of his life he has led a law abiding and hard working existence. He has been in employment, done a number of courses and tried to better himself," he said.

"His character reference from his godfather and pre-sentence report point to a number of difficulties he had at home.

"He was homeless at 16 and forced to live on his own wits and industry. Unlike so many young men he didn't resort to crime.

"Now he, at 29, he accepts knowingly and wittingly, embarked on this growing of cannabis.

"It is described that he was persuaded to do something out of character in the character reference and backed up in the pre-sentence report.

"He is a young man with enormous amounts of potential and now sees the error of his ways.

"He accepts this was involvement for profit to pay off substantial debts he had accumulated to try and better himself.

"He was prevailed upon by someone far more sophisticated than he to take out the tenancy and allow the property to be fitted out with the requisite hydroponics system so the other person could harvest it sell it at a profit.

"What he would get is his debts would be paid, that is all he wanted to do."

Urging the court to impose a suspended sentence he said "Inherently Mr Thomas is a decent man who made an error of judgement."

Jailing him Judge Douglas Field said "A full blown and up and running cannabis factory was established in these premises. You were the tenant at these premises and you acquiesced.

"Your motive was to get money to pay off your substantial debts. If the crop had been realised it would have netted 12kg of skunk cannabis.

"The potential profit running in round figures is £40,000 to £120,00. No less than 144 plants, this is serious stuff Mr Thomas.

"In addition nearly £11,000 of electricity was wrongfully abstracted. All this is so serious that I am not prepared to suspend the inevitable sentence of imprisonment."

He also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the drugs and equipment and the £2,020 found in the house when he was arrested.