Eric Mann is a 54-year-old grandfather who was forced into early retirement by crippling rheumatoid arthritis, writes Tarquin Cooper. He has never before been in trouble with the law, but last week at Swansea Crown Court, Mr Mann was given a nine-month prison sentence for growing and using cannabis to relieve his suffering.

The former oil refinery supervisor, from Pembroke Dock, South Wales, admitted growing 141 plants in his attic. The judge, who acknowledged that Mr Mann was of good character, decided that despite the seriousness of the crime his medical condition meant that the sentence would be suspended. But Mr Mann wants to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, and plans to carry on using cannabis defiantly.

"When I was arrested last February I was held for 27 hours in a police cell," said Mr Mann. "My wife had to come with pills. I had to take a hot shower there and she had to rub my hands because I didn't have my medicine - my cannabis. They made me suffer."

Mr Mann was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis nine years ago. He had to stop work two years later.

"Between 1990-91 I was incapacitated - chairbound - and I became suicidal. It was so depressing after a life of working in the oilfields. Conventional drugs had unacceptable side-effects. As a last resort I tried cannabis. The result has been almost miraculous.

Mr Mann went from being almost totally disabled to being able to walk and pursue a comparatively active life.

"My joints don't swell up anymore. I was registered 97 on a severity scale of my arthritis in 1991. This year I registered seven."

He believes that the law which prevents his access to the drug that improves his quality of life contravenes his human rights. "I'm going to continue using cannabis, but my problem is that I don't want to flout the law deliberately. What do I do? Get better and breach the law or feel worse?"