A FORMER PC and lifelong soldier dubbed a “national hero” let slip plans “to retire in the sunshine” in Asia while under investigation by police who found a sophisticated cannabis factory “protected by weapons”.

David Allen, 68, who toured Northern Ireland, Bosnia, the Gulf and Afghanistan during 24 years’ dedicated military service, was caught after officers received reports of a strong smell of the illegal drug emanating from a farm just 100 metres away from Calthwaite primary school, near Penrith.

Detectives went to the small holding last July and discovered Allen — a former PC who served with the Northumbria force between 1993 and 1997 — had been involved in the “continuous commercial production of cannabis at the property”.

A search revealed a “professional grow” of 80 plants using high end, specialist equipment designed to maximise yield. The plants were nearing full maturity, and contained within a fully insulated room complete with sophisticated timed lamps, heaters and a working industrial ventilation system. Next to that was a substantial drying area including a large, insulated tent, drying racks and vacuum-packing machinery, along with empty fertiliser containers.

Seven crops could have been produced during a 140-week period, it was estimated, potentially yielding up to 42kg of cannabis with a possible wholesale value of between £50,400 and 336,000.

“A search of the defendant’s farmhouse revealed further equipment and packaging for the cannabis,” prosecutor Alaric Walmsley told Carlisle Crown Court, “notes and manuals of how to grow cannabis and operate the machinery; cash; and weapons — knives, a crossbow and air rifles in strategic positions ready to protect the cannabis farm if required.”

One detective described the operation as “one of the most carefully constructed and sophisticated set-ups he had ever seen”.

“It was not the size, I have seen vast cannabis grows,” the officer stated. “It was the attention to detail.”

On initially speaking with plain-clothed officers at his Orchard House property, Allen had asked whether they were looking for a path. “The officers identified themselves and asked the defendant if he knew anything about a cannabis grow in the area,” said Mr Walmsley.

“He said that he did not, and said something like ‘I wouldn’t know where to start with that’. He then started talking about his previous careers in the military and in the police force. Due to the defendant’s demeanour, and the way he was talking, the police suspected that he was trying to change the subject and distract them from the cannabis grow.”

While under investigation by police, Allen made “arrangements to leave the country”. He let slip to an estate agent in November he was “packing” and “off to retire in the sunshine”, mentioning “Asia” and suggesting he would not be coming back but was arrested and remanded in custody later that month.

A financial probe of his personal and business accounts identified “unexplained cash deposits totalling over £425,000, together with regular transfers of money” to an ex-partner in the Philippines. Two passports handed over by Allen to police featured different dates of birth.

A man of positive good character, he admitted both cannabis production and possession of criminal cash after £12,000 in separate £1,000 in a set of bedroom drawers.

Michael Davies, defending, suggested Allen was a “national hero” though his Army service, that being the “real story”, and not his short stint as a PC. “It is that he is a soldier who served his country, so well and for so long, at such personal cost, and has stooped to commit this offence,” said Mr Davies.

None of the legally-held weapons were loaded, he added, while Allen had begun using cannabis to self-medicate for a bad back and also suffered from PTSD and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Jailing Allen for 43 months, Recorder Kate Bex QC said: “I’m satisfied that it’s correct to say that you had a leading role on the basis that you directed and organised the production of cannabis on a commercial scale.

“And that even at the lower estimate of (drug) yield, which is about £50,000, that can only be viewed as a substantial financial advantage.”a