A championship angler netted during a drugs raid has criticised police after claiming he was taken to court over his choice of fishing bait.
Steven Barks was charged with possessing cannabis after officers found boxes of leaves stashed in his garden shed.
But the furious 36-year-old insisted the drug was simply hemp – a widely-used bait that can be bought from fishing shops.
Prosecutors warned they would seek a trial if he stuck by the claim – even though a judge said dragging the case out was a waste of time and money,
Frustrated Mr Barks brought the matter to a close by pleading guilty and walked free from court with a six-month conditional discharge.
“I had intended to deny it all the way, but I couldn’t afford any more expense,” said Mr Barks. “I use hemp as a bait all the time, and so do a lot of other fishermen.
“Everyone I have spoken to can’t believe I have been prosecuted. If it’s against the law, then why is it that you can go into fishing shops and buy it?”
Lincoln Crown Court heard how police seized the cannabis when they raided Mr Barks’ home at Fillingham, near Gainsborough, last October.
Chris Low, prosecuting, said the search ended when boxes containing 65.9 grammes of cannabis-leaf material was discovered in Mr Barks’ shed.
The haul was later analysed and found to contain two per cent tetrahydrocannabinol – the chemical responsible for getting cannabis users ‘high’.
Mr Low claimed the leaves’ THC content was “consistent with home-grown cannabis”.
But Jon Straw, in mitigation, said: “The prosecution says that the herbal material found in Mr Barks’ possession following the police raid is cannabis. He says it is hemp, which he used in the course of fishing. Mr Barks is a fisherman, and hemp is a very commonly used form of bait.
“If the THC content was high, it might have indicated a certain purpose. But it was very low.
“It contained a THC content of just two per cent, which probably means he would have died of lung cancer before he would have been stoned.”
Mr Straw said it would not be in the public interest to continue the case against Mr Barks, who has no previous convictions for drugs offences.
Judge Andrew Hamilton urged prosecutors not to pursue a trial.
“What does it matter unless he grew it or was going to supply it?” he said. “He was simply in possession of a Class C drug for his own use. I think the matter should be resolved one way or the other to save further public expense.”
Mr Barks, who admitted possessing a Class C drug, said he was disgusted to have been treated like a criminal.
“The police smashed my door down, even though it was open. They just put me in handcuffs and put me in the back of the wagon,” he said.
Anglers today said they felt ‘like wanted criminals’ after a man was charged with possessing cannabis when boxes of hemp bait were found at his home.
The concerned anglers now fear that every tackle shop in the country could be breaking the law by stocking the widely-used bait.
As reported in yesterday’s Echo, championship angler Steven Barks was charged with possessing cannabis after officers found boxes of leaves stashed in his garden shed.
Rob Hardman (32), owner of tackle shop Short Ferry Angling, near Fiskerton, said every tackle shop in the country could now be raided.
“Every shop sells tons of hemp – it’s such a well known bait,” he said. “But the hemp fishermen use is treated so it can’t be grown. If they’re going to raid him then they need to raid every shop in the country.
“We sells loads of it. It’s a very good bait and I would say that at least 75 per cent of fishermen use it today.
“When it’s prepared correctly it resembles water snails. I’m absolutely stunned by this, as every fisherman in the business will be.”
Police found boxes containing 65.9 grams of cannabis-leaf material in Mr Barks’ shed at his home in Fillingham, near Gainsborough.
The haul was later analysed and found to contain only two per cent tetrahydrocannabinol – the chemical responsible for getting cannabis users ‘high’.
Echo angling correspondent and chairman of the Lincoln and District Angling Association, Frank Butler (73), said that he could not understand why Mr Barks has been prosecuted. “Hemp is a legal bait. It’s not banned and is used nationally and internationally in competitions,” he said.
“There did used to be a bit of mystique surrounding it a few years ago and there were claims that it had an hallucinogenic effect on the fish but that was dismissed.
“It’s quite a popular choice and it’s reasonably cheap. It was banned during the war, but it was very expensive then as it cost nearly a pound to buy just an ounce. It became popular again in the 50s and 60s and it’s been in use ever since.
“Usually, the hemp seed that fishermen use has been treated so that it won’t grow. It’s attractive to the fish because when it’s cooked it splits open and produces a white shoot that looks a bit like a worm. I have been using it for years and I have never known it to have any ill effects on the fish.”
Bags of hemp can be bought from fishing shops and market stalls and cost around ?1 per pound. It can also be bought in tins at around ?2.
Disabled angler Steve Harrison (50), from Lincoln, said he was most surprised to hear of the case. “I never realised there could be a problem with it,” he said.
“If I’d heard about this story on April Fool’s Day I probably wouldn’t have believed it. It’s a widely used bait, especially in warm weather.
Inspector Dick Holmes from Lincolnshire Police said: “There seems to be more than meets the eye to this case.
“We do not normally go around prosecuting people just for the type of bait they keep in their sheds. At the end of the day Mr Barks did plead guilty and his possession of cannabis material was illegal.”
Mr Barks received a six-month conditional discharge when he appeared in court and said later he admitted the charge as he could not afford to allow the case to go on.