When Corby police found a small amount of cannabis during a routine car stop, it led to the discovery of a family drug dealing operation running out of an unassuming house in a quiet Corby street.
Chester Steed, who was just 20 at the time, was living with his mum Alex Smith – who appeared in court under her alternative name of Alexandria Jabe.
The car he was driving was pulled over in November 2019 and officers found some cannabis. But when they later searched his home in Yew Close on the East Lloyds estate, they uncovered a list of local drug dealers, 22 grammes of cannabis worth about £160 and 17 grammes of MDMA - otherwise known as Ecstasy or Molly – worth up to £1,200.
There was also a cannabis grinder, weighing scales and a fresh cannabis grow in the loft. Most of the plants had already been harvested and only one was recovered intact.
The sobbing pair – neither of whom had a criminal record – arrived in the dock in Northampton Crown Court yesterday (Thursday, May 26) with their bags packed ready to go to jail.
But after hearing extensive mitigation, Recorder Cameron Crowe said they had 'just’ avoided jail, warning them that he still didn’t think they fully understood what they had done.
The court was told that analysis of Steed’s mobile phone showed he’d been involved in the production and sale of class A and B drugs between July and November 2019. Messages were found that had been sent and received from people to organise the sale of drugs among a small circle.
Jabe, 50, was said to have ‘reported to’ her son and served as his ‘assistant’. The court heard she was an ‘enthusiastic helper’ and had learned how to cultivate the plant and sort the drugs into deals.
In police interview, the pair claimed the drugs were for personal use and then answered no comment when they were confronted with the evidence of their involvement in the distribution of ecstasy.
The starting point for Steed, 23, for his role in the crimes would have been three and a half years in jail had he not pleaded guilty. For Jabe, it would have been two years.
In mitigation, advocate Liam Muir said his client Steed had stayed out of trouble since his arrest and had gained stable employment, making him a productive member of society.
"He’s matured and he’s changed,” said Mr Muir.
The court was handed letters of reference from people including Steed’s employer.
But Recorder Crowe questioned why Steed had still not been able to entirely kick his drug use, saying: “The counter argument is that he made himself a productive member of society since he was caught drug dealing.”
Mitigating for Jabe, who is self-employed, advocate Will Heyward said their drug dealing was a ‘small, circular operation,’ and that she was reporting to, and dictated to, by her son.
"She understands she was stupid and naive,” said Mr Heyward.
He criticised the length of time taken for his client to be interviewed by police, whose investigation was delayed by the Covid pandemic.
He said Jabe had fibromyalgia and oseteoarthritis which left her with difficulty sleeping. He said that she acted as a carer for two relatives, and had ‘done whatever she could to protect her family’, including temporarily placing her father in a residential home in case she was jailed.
Recorder Crowe said: “Her pre-sentence report shows that while she expresses remorse, she says she’s not really sure what she’s done wrong.”
The pair both pleaded guilty to supply of MDMA and cannabis and the cultivation of cannabis. Steed also admitted possession of drugs with intent to supply. A further charge of possession of criminal property in the sum of £1,130 was allowed to lie on file.
Sentencing, the judge said that Jabe’s role was ‘essential’ to her son's operation. He said: “You are remorseful but without any insight into the seriousness of what you have done.
"You have both failed to understand you’re now both convicted class-A drug dealers."
Steed, who wore a blue three-piece suit in the dock, was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years and ordered to complete 280 hours of unpaid work in the community.
Jabe was sentenced to 22 months in prison, suspended for two years and told she must complete 20 rehabilitation requirement days and six months of mental health treatment.
Both defendants held hands and were shaking and crying as they were sentenced. They hugged after they were told their sentences would be suspended. Recorder Crowe said he had taken into account the offences were now nearly three years old and said he had ‘just, and only just’ been persuaded to suspend their jail terms.
He warned them that any breach or failure to comply with the terms of their sentences would result in immediate custody.