POLICE found a mini cannabis farm in a tent and keys to a stolen Land Rover when they searched a young father's house, a court heard.

Thomas Mabbitt, 23, later admitted he knew the vehicle had been stolen and claimed he was growing the drugs for his own personal use.

The father-of-two appeared at Chester Crown Court today when he was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for 18 months.

He must also carry out 160 hours of unpaid work in the community and pay £580 in compensation to the owner of the Land Rover, farmer Michael Cliffe.

It emerged Mabbitt, of Childwall Court, Ellesmere Port, had committed the offences of handling stolen goods and producing a controlled drug while serving a suspended prison sentence for fraud.

He could have been sent straight to jail but Judge Patrick Thompson told him this would be “counter-productive” as he would lose his job as a plasterer and likely turn to crime upon his release.

“This is your last opportunity,” the judge said. “You need to grow up. You are a man now and this sort of offending will not be tolerated by the courts any more.”

Peter Hussey, prosecuting, said Mr Cliffe noticed the Land Rover Defender had disappeared from a barn at his farm in Nantwich earlier this summer.

Police then received reports last month that a similar vehicle had been spotted near Mabbitt's home but with different licence plates.

Subsequent checks proved it belonged to Mr Cliffe and officers arrested the defendant and searched his property on September 4 this year.

They found keys to the Land Rover on a bedside table and a vehicle log book in a kitchen drawer.

“A further search revealed in the rear bedroom was a zipped up tent with four small cannabis plants growing under some lighting equipment,” Mr Hussey said.

Mabbitt gave a 'no comment' interview to police but later admitted he knew the Land Rover was stolen when he bought it for £1,500.

He maintained the 'cannabis farm' had been set up for a few hundred pounds to supply himself with the drug.

Chris Hunt, defending, urged the judge to suspend any prison sentence as Mabbitt had a steady job and two children aged one and three.