A Northern Rivers man will later this year be sentenced after he cultivated marijuana in an underground bunker.
A Northern Rivers man will later this year be sentenced after he cultivated marijuana in an underground bunker.

Neighbour found responsible for underground drug bunker

A FERNVALE man guilty of growing marijuana in an underground bunker has been found to be the primary person responsible for the operation.

Paul Ian Harris, 50, pleaded guilty on October 23 to growing a large commercial quantity by enhanced indoor means.

Police found the drugs in buried shipping containers on his neighbours' property in 2018.

But Harris has since faced a hearing to dispute details of the matter, with his legal team and the prosecution at odds as to the extent of his involvement in the crimes, as opposed to that of his neighbours, Maria and Gary Johnston.

Defence barrister Ben Cochrane argued the cultivation was thought up and driven by the Johnstons, while the Crown prosecutor alleged Harris suggested and carried out the cultivation.

He argued this included sourcing and installing the equipment used in the bunker, as well as sourcing and tending to the plants themselves.

The Johnstons have not been charged with any crimes and were granted immunity from being prosecuted over anything they said during their evidence.

The Crown relied on Harris' "tendency" to commit such an offence, after a previous conviction relating to a bunker on his own property in 2010.

They also relied on similarities between the setup and methods in the 2010 and 2018 operations, the argument Harris had the experience and knowledge required and his fingerprint located on a light bulb inside the bunker.

Mr Cochrane argued the Johnstons' testimonies lacked reliability and credibility and pointed to "dissimilarities" between the two sets of offending.

In her judgment handed down today, Judge Dina Yehia said she applied "considerable caution" to the Johnstons' evidence but found the retired couple "were doing their best to be honest and accurate".

Judge Yehia found the Johnstons were not responsible for burying the shipping containers, but also made no finding about who had done this.

"I find it was this offender (Harris) who sourced the plants and equipment," she said.

"The Johnstons did not have the necessary knowledge to determine what equipment was required."

She was satisfied the Johnstons knew Harris had been arrested over cultivating marijuana in 2010, and agreed in 2017 that it would be grown in the bunker near their home.

She also found Mr Johnston first raised the question of how to grow marijuana and engaged and - to a lesser extent - in the work Harris undertook.

"I'm unable to determine the extent of profit each (person) stood to make," she said.

Mr Cochrane will seek a further report before Harris is sentenced in December.