The prosecution claimed Andrew James Richomme (25) had deliberately entered the premises off St John’s main road in the early hours of 23 September last year and snapped off about 30 flowering heads. Jersey Hemp has a special licence to grow hemp for medicinal purposes.
Although Mr Richomme admitted he did enter the premises, he claimed he had been drunk at the time and that he and a group of friends had only gone into the polytunnels where the crop was grown to investigate after walking home from a party and smelling cannabis. Since being charged, Mr Richomme has consistently denied ever having had a plan to steal hemp.
Giving evidence, Mr Richomme told the jury he knew that although hemp and cannabis are similar, he also knew it was impossible to get high on hemp. Why then, he told jurors, would he want to steal the hemp?
During summing up, Advocate Mark Boothman, defending, described as ‘ridiculous’ what he saw as the other motive put forward by the prosecution for the crime, that Mr Richomme was going to try and sell the hemp to inexperienced smokers who might be fooled into believing it was cannabis. Mr Richomme, the lawyer added, had claimed while giving his evidence, that such a scheme would not work, that there would be retribution if he attempted such a scam, and that he would end up getting 'battered'.
Advocate Boothman was also critical of the police’s handling of the case. They did not search either of the two properties where Mr Richomme said he was living. According to Advocate Boothman, this substantially hampered his client’s defence.
According to a drugs expert who also gave evidence in the trial, in September last year Covid-19-prompted travel restrictions had pushed the cost of cannabis up to between £25-35 a gram. That, Advocate Boothman told the court, meant, if passed off as cannabis, the alleged hemp haul would have been worth about £70,000. Even if Mr Richomme had realised only half of that, the lawyer added, £35,000 was a lot of money. When police searched Mr Richomme he had only £128.40.
The prosecution’s case had mainly been built around secret video footage that showed Mr Richomme in the polytunnels when the theft was alleged to have occurred. Alarmed by an earlier theft, the company had set up a ‘wildlife camera’ which can film in the dark and which, when triggered by movement, captures 30 seconds’ worth of film.
The court were shown two clips. In both of them Mr Richomme is wearing a hoodie and seen wandering around the tunnels using his mobile phone’s torch to see his way around in the dark. At one point Mr Richomme seems to rummage in one of the plants.
But, as Mr Richomme’s defence team pointed out to the jury, the footage did not show him cutting or snapping any of the plants, nor did it show him with any bags.
The trial was presided over by the Bailiff Timothy Le Cocq. It took the jury one hour and 40 minutes to unanimously clear Mr Richomme of one count of illegal entry with intent to commit a crime and one count of larceny.