A RINGLEADER of a gang which set up a “sophisticated” cannabis factory at a Bolton mill has been jailed for 45 months.

Four men were caught red-handed just weeks into the operation at Atlas Mill in Heaton, the town’s crown court was told.

Police estimate that, depending on the maturity of the plants involved, each cannabis grow there could have been worth up to £39,000.

Prosecutor Patrick Williamson said the mill was owned by a company called Anco and in July 2020 John Joyce had expressed an interest in renting a unit there, to use for a car sales outfit.

Joyce told staff his colleague Christopher Adam would be signing the rental agreement but the paperwork remained incomplete.

The court was told Adams was seen around the premises that August. But after a tip-off to police, Adams, Joyce, Nicky Bertenshaw and Michael Hill, were all captured on CCTV unloading equipment from a van there, on September 21.

Mr Williamson said when police moved in, Joyce was detained and he said: “We’re not burgling the place”.

The court was told the other three were located nearby. And when officers inspected the premises they found a “sophisticated” cannabis growing operation inside, over two rooms, serviced by heating and lighting equipment. All four were arrested.

Adams, 34, of St George’s Road, Droylsden, Joyce, 36, of Westminster Road, Failsworth, Hill, 36, of St Stephen’s Avenue, Audenshaw, and Bertenshaw, 37, of Alt Lane, Oldham, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce cannabis.

Ian Metcalfe, for Adams, said his client accepted he had been involved with the conspiracy from the outset, unlike his co-accused.

But the court heard there had been no financial gain made as no crops had been harvested from the operation before, as Mr Metcalfe said “police nipped the operation in the bud”.

Recorder Andrew Long said it was a “sophisticated” set-up and jailed Adams for 45 months.

Joyce was given a two-year community order with 15 rehab activity days. Hill was sentenced to a 10-month suspended prison term with 20 rehab activity days and a three-month curfew. Bertenshaw was given a 12-month community order with 29 rehab days.