Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Dope shop evidence doesn't stand up, court told

Switched On Gardener shop on Lower Dent St, Whangarei, was searched as part of Operation Lime. Photo / John Stone
Switched On Gardener shop on Lower Dent St, Whangarei, was searched as part of Operation Lime. Photo / John Stone

None of the communications recorded by undercover police officers at Switched on Gardener stores was consistent with the company being an organised criminal group which sold equipment to cannabis growers, a court has been told.

The trial of five men alleged to have spearheaded the operation has nearly ended in the Auckland District Court, with defence lawyers trying to convince the jury that the company's activities were all above board.

Switched on Gardener owner Michael Maurice Quinlan, general manager Peter John Bennett, distribution manager Andrew Barry Mai, South Island manager Paul Kenneth Barlow and business development manager Ricky Cochrane have denied charges of belonging to an organised criminal group and supplying equipment to supply cannabis.

Two firms owned by Quinlan, Stoneware 91 and Hydroponics Wholesalers, are also on trial.

The court has been given evidence that undercover police officers, who wore wires and posed as customers, bought marijuana plants from shop staff. But Quinlan and Bennett's lawyer, Paul Davison, QC, said none of these undercover recordings was consistent with the charges.

Staff employment contracts stuck to a strict code of conduct and required drugs be kept away from work, he said. "Every communication is consistent with them [the accused] enforcing the standards and wanting to remain within the law."

Switched on Gardener may have employed people with an interest in "the herb", but that didn't mean they did anything illegal, he said.

The company's "no cops" on the payroll policy was possibly a joke.

"The evidence that you have heard falls woefully and way short ... of amounting to proof beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Bennett and Mr Quinlan are guilty of any of the charges."

Cochrane's lawyer, Matthew Dixon, said his client was a purchasing officer for Hydroponics Wholesalers and was primarily "the numbers man".

He said this company was set up to cater for the growing needs of a legitimate industry - commercial and hobby indoor gardening.

Mr Dixon likened the police operation to undercover officers going into DB Breweries and asking the malt supplier how many people who get served at bars were underage.

The Crown says Switched on Gardener was a "one stop shop" for cannabis-growing equipment.

Lawyers for the other two accused are expected to give their closing addresses tomorrow.

- APNZ

- NZ Herald

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