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Milkman spared jail over cannabis round

An OAP milkman who supplied cannabis to customers to ease their aches and pains walked free from court today.

Robert Holding, 72, received a suspended prison sentence at Burnley Crown Court today for the supply and possession of the drug.

Judge Beverley Lunt told him the sentence was "an act of mercy" in light of his wife's illness.

The court heard that his wife has Alzheimer's disease and recently moved into a care home, where he visits her every day.

Holding, of Fair View Road, Burnley, Lancashire, admitted at an earlier hearing to supplying cannabis resin between April and July 2008, and possessing cannabis with intent to supply on July 17 last year.

Prosecutor Sarah Statham told the court that police got wind of his activities and raided his property when his wife and daughter were at home.

During the raid Holding arrived home in the Transit van he used for his milk round and officers discovered nearly 6oz (167g) of cannabis split into 15 separate packets in an egg crate in the vehicle.

Miss Statham said the smallest amount the packets contained was 0.1oz (3g) of the drug and the largest amount was 0.7oz (20g).

She said the cannabis had an estimated street value of £450.

Miss Statham said that, during the course of an eight-minute police interview, the defendant was "extremely frank".

She said: "He said he sold the cannabis to existing customers because they were old and had aches and pains.

"He said he sold a 9oz (255g) bar about every three weeks and sold it for a relatively cheap value.

"He said that customers left him notes saying, for example, 'Can I have an ounce this week or can I have an eighth'."

Miss Statham revealed that Holding sold an ounce (28g) for £30 or one-eighth for £4.10 to 17 customers.

She said Holding, a motorcycle enthusiast, said he would never sell the drug to children.

The court heard that Holding has been married for 53 years and has six children and 28 grandchildren.

Philip Holden, for the defence, said in mitigation that his client became tearful at the thought of being sent to prison and not being able to see his wife.

He said: "He gets tearful every time the subject is mentioned. His wife is now living in a home by reason of the fact she suffers from Alzheimer's.

"He visits her on a daily basis. Sometimes she can remember who he is and other times she can't.

"He is very fearful that her mental health will deteriorate further if he's unable to see her on a daily basis."

Mr Holden said an unusual feature of the case was that Holding "wasn't making much of a profit" and said he made more of a profit on his milk round.

He said his oldest client was 92 and added: "Word had got out that he was a man who could supply cannabis to those of a certain age with aches and pains and he misguidedly believed he was providing a public service."

Mr Holden said Holding sold the drug far below its street value, selling one-eighth for £4.10 as opposed to the £10 it would normally fetch.

He said: "By the time he's taken off the extra petrol for going out of his way, he wasn't making any money."

He added that Holding suffered from depression as a result of his wife's illness.

Judge Lunt told Holding he purported to justify drug dealing by saying "you are helping out those elderly people who had ailments".

She said a pre-sentence report revealed he did not see the harm in cannabis but he was wrong in this belief.

Judge Lunt said: "You were not some philanthropist helping out the elderly out of the good of your heart. You dealt drugs for profit in a calculated way. It was a business."

She added: "You didn't consider what effect those drugs might have had on the people you were supplying."

Judge Lunt told Holding that the only matter in his favour was his wife.

She acknowledged that he visited her every day and that to stop doing so might cause her some distress because she would not understand why.

Judge Lunt said: "If I sent you to prison, it wouldn't just affect you, it would affect her.

"As an act of mercy, to reflect these very particular circumstances, I'm going to suspend the prison sentence."

Holding received a 36-week sentence for each count, suspended for one year. He also received a one-year supervision order.

Speaking outside court, Holding said he was "very relieved".

He said he regretted his actions and added: "I didn't make a profit, they said I did but I didn't.

"They (customers) enjoyed it, they saved a lot of money while I was doing it and I only did it for a short time. I only did it for three months and they saved about £300 or £400 in that time.

"One old woman, all she'd got was a little piece and she used to make it last all week.

"I knew it was breaking the law but I didn't know it was so much and so badly.

"I can see my wife, that's all I'm bothered about."

Mr Holding revealed he did not smoke cannabis himself or drink alcohol.

He said many of his customers had arthritis or multiple sclerosis, or were wheelchair bound.

Holding also revealed he received many Christmas cards from supporters around the UK and said around nine solicitors had contacted him to ask if they could represent him in court.

Neil Standage, area crown prosecutor for East Lancashire, said Holding was caught "red handed by police" and had very little option but to plead guilty.

He said: "The explanation that he gave to police was that he was providing the drug to elderly customers for their aches and pains.

"This might make it sound like what he was doing was harmless. It wasn't.

"We don't have any evidence of exactly who he was supplying the drugs to, just his word to police, and his explanation - as his guilty plea acknowledges - is certainly not a valid defence for supplying an illegal drug."