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Cannabis charges denied

Two people police claim were involved in growing a cannabis crop worth up to $1 million have gone on trial by jury in Gisborne District Court.

Police, acting on a tip-off, conducted an aerial spotting operation and sent a ground team to Kopuapounamu Road, about 10 kilometres inland from Te Araroa, on January 14, 2017.

Three large cannabis plots were discovered in bush clearings on a property near two adjacent ones at which Pine Patrick Waara, 44, and Charles Chas Bennett Waara, 47, live on Kopuapounamu Road.

The pair were jointly charged, along with Pauline Amy Poi, 33, who was a regular visitor to Chas Waara's property, with two counts of cultivating cannabis and one of possessing it for sale.

Patrick Waara pleaded guilty but Chas Waara (represented by counsel Vicky Thorpe) and Poi (represented by counsel Manaaki Terekia) maintain they had nothing to do with the offending.

In an opening address to the jury yesterday, prosecutor Cameron Stuart said the venture, involving 900 carefully-tended female plants, was a sophisticated, commercial undertaking — too labour intensive for just one person.

While the Crown case against Chas Waara and Poi was circumstantial, jurors should be able to bring all the strands of evidence together to logically conclude the pair must have been involved.

“The devil is in the detail”, Mr Stuart said.

The plots all shared similar characteristics and were clearly part of the same operation, he said.

Quad bike tracks connected the plots and the Waara brothers' properties.

None of the cannabis was growing in the ground. All was growing in bags and spaced out in rows.

It was growing in distinctive tunnel structures made from manuka poles and bamboo trusses, joined together with black tape. The purpose of the tunnel houses was so that black polythene could be drawn up over the plants to control lighting.

The set-up was common to all three plots and also common to each were items found, such as fertiliser, buckets, and traps.

Those same items were also found at the Waara brothers' properties.

Yesterday the first Crown witness — Detective Sergeant Wayne Beattie — gave evidence as the officer in charge of the case and as an expert witness on cannabis cultivation and potential cannabis yields.

He took the jury through a large volume of photographs, showing aerial and ground views of the plots, the unfarmed land on which the Waara brothers lived, their modest houses and items common to the plots and those properties.

Photos showed water was being pumped from a stream to reservoirs at two of the plots.

Plants there, once harvested, could have been worth between $700,000 and $1 million, depending on whether they were sold wholesale or at street value, Det Sgt Beattie said.

A reservoir in the third plot was reliant on rain to fill it and had dried up. There were 151 empty planter bags scattered about the plot, with 157 plants hanging nearby under black polythene to dry.

It appeared the growers had cut their losses and harvested that plot early, Det Sgt Beattie said. Once processed, that cannabis would have been worth about $60,000.

Five cigarette butts found in the drying area and four found in the nearby empty plot were sent for forensic testing. All those found in the drying area had Poi's DNA on them. It was also on two of the four from the empty plot.

Poi by her own admission, often took a quad bike to Chas Waara's property, albeit she said she used it for hunting.

Items found at Chas Waara's house included liquid fertiliser identical to that found at the plots.

Yet there was no garden of any type at Waara's property.

A notebook was also found there in which there were drawings replicating the design of the tunnel house structures at the plots. There were also several unrelated entries by other people, possibly including Chas Waara's two children, who live with him at the property.

In an opening statement for Chas Waara, Ms Thorpe emphasised the Crown case was purely circumstantial. There was no evidence putting her client at any of the plots.

The jury would need to look at each part of the evidence and decide whether there was a perfectly innocent and reasonable explanation for it.

Any piece of evidence that had a reasonable explanation diminished the Crown case, Ms Thorpe said.

Jurors should resist taking one and one and adding it up to five, Ms Thorpe said.

She told the jury to be mindful the plots were not on Chas Waara's property and to take care when assessing the proximity of them.

Aerial photos did not show the contours of the land and did not give an accurate picture as to how areas might or might not be connected, she said.

Mr Terekia will cross-examine the detective sergeant on behalf of Poi, after Ms Thorpe's cross-examination is completed.

BUSTED:Tunnel houses with cannabis plants found by Police. There were 306 plants, all about 75cms tall, in this plot. Picture supplied
FROM THE AIR: Police, acting on a tip-off, spotted tunnel houses on this cannabis plot and two others like it in bush clearings on a Kopuapounamu Road property, inland from Te Araroa, on January 14, 2017. Inset: Police say the work involved in tending to 900 plants at three plots alleged to be all part of the same cannabis growing venture, would have been too labour-intensive for one person. A man admitted charges in relation to the operation. Two others accused are standing trial.Pictures supplied
Plants: Police say the work involved in tending to 900 plants at three plots alleged to be all part of the same cannabis growing venture, would have been too labour-intensive for one person. Picture supplied