A doorman turned actor was caught trying to rescue a cannabis crop while firefighters tackled a blaze at his home.
Francis ‘Franny’ Bennett shot to fame in Shooters, a gritty Channel 4 film about Liverpool’s underworld, which became a cult hit.
Liverpool Crown Court heard fire engines were called to his address in Dorchester Park, Prenton, Wirral on April 19 last year.
But as firefighters tried to put out the flames, the 46-year-old arrived and started loading cannabis plants into a pickup truck.
Mike Stephenson, prosecuting, said one firefighter spotted “a considerable number of plants” on the first floor.
He said: “She estimated about 20 plants, 5ft in height. Whilst they were fighting the fire Mr Bennett arrived, who was the occupier of the premises, with a pickup truck.
“He started loading packages and plants into that pickup and in fact it was on his third visit to the house that police arrived and detained him.”
The court heard some damaged plants could still be seen in the house and officers recovered a bucket containing 116g of harvested cannabis.
Mr Stephenson said that had an estimated street value of up to £1,740, but Bennett gave a mainly “no comment” interview the following day.
He said Bennett only answered questions about items retrieved in his house, some of which were of “considerable value”.
Mr Stephenson said police found a receipt for £4,000 of Gucci clothing, but defence lawyers said this was in fact 4,000 Hong Kong dollars – around £400.
He said no electricity had been abstracted at the property and there was no evidence of the fire being started by “bad wiring”.
Bennett admitted being concerned in the production of cannabis and possessing the Class B drug with intent to supply.
He was convicted of possessing cocaine in 2001, in 2007 and in 2010, for which he received community-based punishments.
Trevor Parry-Jones, defending, said Bennett had stayed out of trouble for eight years and had “a lengthy period of good character”.
He said Bennett tried to kill himself in 2007, when the ECHO reported how he was found wandering bare-chested down the M53 .
Bennett was spotted close to junction two of the motorway and detained under the Mental Health Act on November 7 that year.
Mr Parry-Jones said: “That attempted suicide was a particularly dangerous one for him, because he was found on a motorway.
“I don’t think he was entirely naked, but he was in a very distressed state. The motorway had to be closed.
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“He has or had severe mental health difficulties and to his credit he seems to have made good progress and your honour knows from the pre-sentence report he attributes some of that to his illegal use of cannabis.”
Mr Parry-Jones said a mental health practitioner working for the Probation Service suggested he may have some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
He said Bennett lived on his own but mixed with other people who smoked cannabis and had become “a heavy user”, who shared the drug with friends.
The lawyer said firefighters found 20 cannabis plants, which was “a fairly low grade number”, and there had been a “considerable delay” in proceedings.
Mr Parry-Jones said Bennett had been awaiting sentence for more than a year and that with his mental health issues, the stress had weighed heavily.
Judge Brian Cummings, QC, accepted until these offences Bennett had not been in trouble since 2010 and there was a delay in the case coming to court.
However, he said: “It’s a very unattractive feature that while the fire service were trying to put a fire out at these premises you were taking the opportunity to move two loads of plants before being arrested by the police on the third occasion.”
The judge handed Bennett eight months in prison, suspended for two years, plus a six-month Drug Rehabilitation Requirement.
He also told him to attend a 20-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement, before stating: “All mitigation has been taken account of today.”
Judge Cummings warned: “In other words, those cards have been played.
“If you come back before this court in breach, none of this is going to count, you will be at risk of going to prison.”
Shooters, first shown on TV in 2000, was a dark mix of fiction and reality, set around the murky Liverpool underworld.
Director Dan Reed used non-actors including Bennett and other doormen to portray gangsters involved in violence and drug dealing.
Full story is available here.