AN OSWESTRY man used his bespoke furniture firm to conceal a drugs operation which was producing cannabis on an “industrial scale” at an industrial estate.

Simon King was described as the “instigator” behind the operation which stretched across three counties, including the cannabis farm at the Bromfield Industrial Estate in Mold, which was equipped with hi-tech growing equipment and was laden with £356,000 worth of cannabis when it was raided by police.

King hatched plans for the illicit venture with business associate Lee Alexander, formerly of Chester, while the pair were serving prison sentences.

King’s partner, Oswestry beauty salon owner Maxine Knott helped launder around £800,000 cash from the proceeds of the drugs production through her business and a personal account.

The drugs money enabled King and Knott to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and they had two Mercedes cars, a Bentley and a Range Rover parked on the driveway of their high rental property, Abbotsmoor Farm at West Felton near Oswestry.

The trio received combined sentences of nearly 12-and-a-half years and Judge Niclas Parry said: “It was a sophisticated operation and carried out over a period of time and the profits were extremely high.”

He sent King to prison for six years and four months and told him: “You presented as a successful and innovative businessman with an outlet for furniture design, but the main purpose was to produce cannabis on an industrial scale.”

Alexander received a prison sentence of four years and nine months while Knott, who was handed a 14-month custodial sentence after denying a money laundering charge, was told by the judge: “It was quite obvious that you knew what your partner was doing and you allowed your bank accounts to be used. You were enjoying the trappings of the significant profit he was making and tried to pull the wool over the jury’s eyes.

“You have been a hard-working woman who no doubt was influenced by the man you loved, but you were willing to go in with your eyes wide open.”

King and Alexander registered King’s furniture business, Halcyon Furniture, to an industrial unit they rented at the Mold industrial estate, but police officers were waiting when Alexander drove up in his BMW on January 13 last year.

Prosecutor Anna Price told Mold Crown Court that from the outside the unit appeared to be the base for the furniture business, but behind a whiteboard and door was a “sophisticated” cannabis farm complete with hydroponic equipment, lighting, air conditioning and along with amounts of dried cannabis there were 329 plants with an estimated street value between £149,000 and £356,000.

“It was consistent with the continuous growth of cannabis and the unit looked like it had been used for a considerable time,” said the barrister.

Alexander was found with £364 cash and two mobile phones and when his home was searched a further £10,000 in cash was discovered.

Police ANPR records showed he had visited Mold almost each day over a lengthy period up to the raid.

When King and Knott’s rented property was searched there was evidence that cannabis was being produced in an outbuilding. King also rented two other industrial units, and at one police found there was evidence cannabis had been grown.

Tellingly King had no legal income from 2011 onwards according to HMRC records, but nearly £500,000 went though his bank accounts, while £96,363 passed through Alexander’s bank accounts.

Knott passed money through her business, Oswestry-based Gorgeous Hair and Beauty Salon with between £90,000 and £100,000 accounted for. She claimed that she did not suspect where the cash was coming from and believed King’s business was thriving through the proceeds of “high-end” furniture sales.

King, 46, and Alexander, 34, formerly of Queen’s Road in Chester, now of Silkmoor Lane, Stafford, both admitted conspiring to produce and supply cannabis between December 2011 and January of last year.

They also pleaded guilty to converting criminal property namely £806,586.13 cash, knowing or suspecting it was wholly or partly the proceeds of criminal conduct between December 31, 2011 and March 9, 2017.

Knott, 50, denied converting criminal property, but was found guilty by a jury.

Defence barrister Darron Whitehead said King - who the court was told had previously received a 30-month prison sentence for fraud offences - had stayed out of trouble since his arrest in January last year.

“He has put his affairs in order and has not tried to hide his assets and they will be dealt with by a proceeds of crime [order], although the reality is that there is nothing much,” said the barrister.

“He knows he will have to pay the price and he will try to use the skills he possesses in woodworking to help other inmates.”

Mark Nicholls said Alexander had put his affairs in order.

Saleema Mahmood said Knott had lost her good name and was concerned about the future of her salon staff.

“She is remorseful that she allowed it to continue over the period of time it did,” said Ms Mahmood.