A BASINGSTOKE father-of-two, who admitted growing cannabis worth hundreds of pounds in his home, told a judge how he went into a “downhill spiral” when he lost his job during the recession.

Richard Cunningham, 34, was arrested on July 12 last year following a call from Sentinel Housing Association to the police about a strong smell of drugs emanating from his home in Mullins Close, Oakridge, which he rents from the housing association.

Prosecuting, Dawn Hyland said police attended the address and found 15 mature plants in his spare bedroom and 12 juvenile plants in the bathroom cupboard.

She said: “We accept what he says, that these plants were for his own use.

“It would provide around 17 months worth of cannabis for himself, with a valuation of from £800 to £1,800.”

She added that Cunningham has two previous convictions - one for common assault in 2006 and one for possession of cannabis with intent to supply in 2012.

Defending, Fern Russell said her client was a hard-working carpenter, who had glowing letters from both his employer and his apprentice.

She said: “He has a partner and a young family. She (his partner) is a very upstanding lady. They are engaged and the wedding is on September 20.”

Miss Russell took the unusual step of letting Mr Cunningham take the stand to address the judge directly about his circumstances.

He told Judge Susan Evans: “I have worked from the age of 16 as a carpenter.

“For the last five or six years that started to go downhill with the recession. I was made redundant on several occasions and I couldn’t find work.

“Money was scarce at that stage and it was a downhill spiral for me.”

He said smoking cannabis had taken over his life and that he had “let my fiancée down. I was not taking responsibility for my children.”

He said that he had not smoked for the last six or seven months and was working once again, now earning around £40,000 a year.

Judge Evans said she was taking into account his “significant mitigation” while sentencing him.

Cunningham was sentenced to a community order of 12 months, with the requirement to do 100 hours of unpaid work.

He will also pay costs of £300 and a surcharge of £60 within a month.