A ‘PILLAR of the community’ who ran a secret underground cannabis factory beneath his respectable stonemason’s business has been jailed for two years.

Garry Thomas Hodgkinson, 55, of Victoria Avenue, Mytholmes, was a man of “impeccable character” who had been a pillar of the business community for decades, Bradford Crown Court heard on Tuesday.

Through his stonemasons business, M&G Stone Ltd, he has given countless young people a head start in their careers and raised money for charities including Sue Ryder Care.

But the Recorder of Bradford, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall, told Hodgkinson: “All your good works and endeavours had behind them this little secret operation.”

For beneath Hodgkinson’s stoneyard at Alkincote Street, Keighley, was hidden “a very sophisticated indeed cannabis production facility” inside air raid tunnels dating back to the Second World War.

Entrance to the tunnels was concealed inside the company’s safe, and when police went inside they found a sophisticated four-room production facility containing 48 cannabis plants with a potential street value of up to £45,000 and already-harvested skunk cannabis with a street value of £38,000.

In mitigation, Shuqat Khan said that Hodgkinson recognised that the reputation of the business he had built up over 30 years was now in tatters.

But he said: “Rarely will your honour have before you a man who is spoken of in such glowing terms, who is able to point to different aspects of his life and people who know him speak so highly with him.”

One former employee of 12 years said that Hodgkinson “has shown me what true loyalty is, helped me become what I am today.” Another man said Hodgkinson had “changed his life”, adding: “He is not just my boss but he is a friend too.”

Hodgkinson founded MNG Stone Supplies in 1990 and employed on average a dozen staff over that time.

But in the last recession, the closure of a particular quarry he relied upon harmed his business due to his insistence on using only Yorkshire stone, not imported materials.

As the business struggled he ensured his employees were always paid, sometimes going without his own wage to do so.

The court heard that Hodgkinson had been approached by two men he called Smith and Jones who wanted to use the air raid shelters for cannabis production.

At first Hodgkinson refused, but he eventually agreed to go into business with them.

After falling out with his associates, he severed ties and continued growing the plants himself using the skills they had taught him.

When police were tipped off and searched his business premises, Hodgkinson immediately admitted

Judge Durham Hall told Hodgkinson: “Your family are here, and that must cause you great upset to know that you are being sentenced in public for something that is all your fault.

“Intelligence led the police to M&G Stone Ltd in Keighley, your business of which you are justifiably proud. A very skilled stonemasonry business.”

“There the police found, as I have seen on the footage recovered by body camera, a very sophisticated indeed cannabis production facility concealed in old and otherwise hidden tunnels dating back to the Second World War concealed not just by the safe which provided access to these tunnels but by this otherwise legitimate and prestigious company.”

“Well thought out: plants, notes, notebooks indicating what had to be done and when, seedlings, a separate fuse box system and certainly in three rooms highly material cannabis produce.

“So we have a system, well-thought-out, which had been created some three or more years ago. Not your idea, but an idea that you embraced moving from junior partner to, at the time of the seizures, full, sole proprietor.”

The judge accepted there was no evidence he sold it himself but “you clearly were prepared, were you not, to take it over with a view to continuing financial profits.”

Warning that jail was inevitable, the judge said: “Nobody in their right mind would think that I was reflecting society’s disapproval of skunk cannabis and those who so blatantly produce it were I to falsely and inexcusably to try and say this is suspendable.”

He jailed Hodgkinson for two years.