Accountant grew drugs to repay debts, Breaking Bad-style

York Crown Court
York Crown Court
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A debt-racked accountant and former music promoter ran a double life as a ‘Breaking Bad’-style drug cultivator in a desperate attempt to straighten out his finances, a court heard.

Sean Birdsall, 48, turned to cannabis production after his failed attempt at running a successful music festival in Ripon.

Birdsall was creative director of the now-defunct Limetree Arts and Music Festival in Grewelthorpe.

The annual festival hit the rocks after heavy rain led to catastrophic returns in its final year, leaving Birdsall with £50,000 debts.

In a desperate attempt to claw the money back and pay his creditors, he set up a cannabis factory at a rented property in Leeds, but soon found he was out of his depth and moved the dismantled equipment back to his home in Barkston Ash, near Tadcaster.

Police raided the house on April 24, 2013, and found 1.68kg of cannabis, initially thought to be worth up to £18,000. They also found hydroponics equipment, special lighting and 215 plastic pots in Birdsall’s garden shed.

York Crown Court heard that, just like the main character in the cult US television crime drama Breaking Bad – about a financially-bereft chemistry teacher who sets himself up as a drug dealer to secure his family’s financial future – Birdsall plunged head-first into the narcotics underworld after racking up a mountain of debt.

Birdsall, of Scarthingwell Park, was charged with supplying cannabis between October 1 2012 and April 24, 2013, and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.

Birdsall appeared in the dock for sentence on Friday after pleading guilty to the offences on the basis that the value of the drugs was less than the Crown Prosecution Service claimed. The CPS said the prepared cannabis would have fetched between £16,000 and £18,000 if sold on the street.

But Birdsall claimed it was his first crop and worth only £7,500. He said he had already sold £2,000 worth of the drug - about a third of the crop – to friends and family, which only covered the rent of the Leeds property and the cost of the equipment.

The CPS eventually accepted this basis of plea and settled on a total valuation of £9,500.

Prosecutor Aisha Wadoodi said Birdsall soon realised he wasn’t very good at cannabis-growing.

Defence barrister Glen Parsons said Birdsall had since landed a new job and sorted out his finances, adding: “For a large part of his life he has been a force for good in his community and a man of boundless energy, enterprise and enthusiasm.

“To give something back to the community, he set himself up as a music promoter for well-known, established acts. It was a not-for-profit organisation and relied on donations from family, friends and local businesses, and made a loss every year.”

“He is an experienced accountant and could have relied on some sort of limited liability to pay people back, but he was struck down by illness which turned out to be a severe kidney infection,” added the barrister.

“He was incapacitated for some considerable period of time and his financial situation went from bad to worse.

“He thought he was going to die and was virtually penniless, but he has brought shame on his profession.”

Mr Parsons said Birdsall’s temporary lurch from popular, law-abiding man of the community to drug producer was very much like the script of Breaking Bad, where teacher Walter White gets involved in the drugs world after being diagnosed with an inoperable disease.

Judge Stephen Ashurst told Birdsall: “You are said to be an intelligent and highly-motivated man. I suppose the reality is that sometimes intelligent people make extremely foolish decisions. You plainly fall into that category.”

He gave Birdsall a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years because of the glowing testimonials submitted to the courts on his behalf by friends and family.

Birdsall was ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay £350 costs. Mr Ashurst ordered the confiscation of £370 found at Birdsall’s property during the raid.