A COUNTRY sportsman of impeccable character was pressurised into growing cannabis in the loft of his home to settle a debt.

Ralph Chambers, who works as a beater on pheasant shoots in the Cotswolds, was caught with about £10,000 worth of the drug growing in his home at Hickley Gardens in Brockworth.

But the defendant had no idea how much cannabis was being grown in the loft of his home and had been coerced into allowing it to happen.

Chambers, whose two adult daughters accompanied him to Gloucester Crown Court for the hearing, admitted producing cannabis, abstracting electricity and failing to comply with his firearms certificate.

Judge Jamie Tabor QC sentenced him to nine months jail suspended for two years, a 7pm-6am tagged curfew for three months, a two-year conditional discharge, £250 fine and £80 surcharge.

He said the case deserved a jail sentence but he took into account that Chambers had been co-erced by someone and was not directly involved in the drug production himself.

However he said it would be the last time he would accept such a defence as a reason for avoiding prison.

"I am sending out a message that is going to be clear once and for all," said Judge Tabor.

"This is the second time recently that a man of good character who would not bring suspicion on himself has been prevailed upon by bad men to harbour drugs either by growing them or hiding them, "This is becoming more prevalent and it has got to stop - to protect the likes of you and to protect the public at large.

"From now on, anyone who finds themselves in the position of being leaned on by bad men to hide or grow drugs can expect no mercy - they will be sent to prison regardless."

The judge told Chambers he 'should have been stronger' and refused to allow the drug growing operation in his home.

Prosecutor Julian Kesner said police raided Chambers' home and found six large cannabis plants, 23 smaller ones and 80 seedlings in the loft. There was potential for more than a kilo of cannabis worth over £10,000, he said.

The police accepted Chambers' explanation and that he was unaware and had no control over the scale of operation taking place, Mr Kesner added.

During the raid police also found rifle ammunition which should have been secured in a gun cabinet. He had also been stealing electricity, about £340 worth, to power the heat and light of the cannabis growing operation.

Jon Holmes, defending, said Chambers was of good character and remorseful.

He added that his client was vulnerable at the time and had allowed cannabis to be grown at his home because he was in debt to the man who co-erced him to do it.