Murdered for Weed: Would Jack Williams Be Alive If Cannabis Had Been Legalized?
Sputnik's Chris Summers investigates the murder of a pensioner in Wales, who was robbed by a heroin addict for the money he made from cultivating cannabis in his attic, and asks whether legalizing the drug, as has been done in Canada and some US states, would have made him less vulnerable.
Around midnight on Thursday, March 29, 2018 there was a knock on the door of Jack Williams' traditional terraced house in Bonymaen, a community of around 6,000 people which overlooks the city of Swansea.

On the doorstep was Jonathan Donne, a 42-year-old heroin addict known as Johnny, who was freed from jail last year after serving 10 years for killing his girlfriend, Michelle Harkett.

His new girlfriend Gemma Owen, 31, was hiding around the corner and Simon Cairns, 46, was lurking in the shadows, having driven them up to Bonymaen from the tough Brynmelyn housing estate where all three lived.

Donne (pictured) told the trial they went to the house initially to buy cannabis but had heard Jack did not "believe in banks" and planned to rob him of his cash and drugs.

What exactly happened inside 112 Pentrechwyth Road remains unknown but Jack was badly beaten, tied up and left for dead while they escaped with several bags of cannabis worth up to £7,000 (US$8,964).
Over the next few days Donne and Owen travelled to Cardiff, stayed in a hotel and went nightclubbing, while regularly smoking heroin and crack cocaine. But when they returned to Swansea they heard bad news.
Donne's best friend, Ceri Rees, described his reaction when he told him Jack was dead on April 2. "F*** off, he's not dead," Donne replied to him.
When he realized Rees was telling the truth, Donne began asking a series of questions about forensic evidence.
Rees said Donne asked him if DNA could be recovered from rope — police later found DNA from Jack (pictured) on a length of rope at Donne's flat — or if DNA from blood would stay on tracksuit bottoms even after they had been washed. Police raided the apartment Donne and Owen shared at Gordon Thomas Close on April 4, but he was not there. He had gone on the run.

On Tuesday, October 30, Donne was convicted of Jack's murder at Swansea Crown Court while Owen and Cairns were acquitted of all charges.

Donne, who has killed before, was jailed for life on Thursday, November 1. He will not be eligible for parole until 2049 at the earliest.
"This was a brutal and callous attack on a defenceless elderly man in his own home. The jury has found that Donne showed a complete disregard for Jack Williams' life. His home was ransacked and he was tied up and badly beaten and in essence left for dead," said Detective Chief Inspector Darren George.
Donne himself admitted punching Jack (pictured) and tying him up but claimed he was conscious and talking when he went upstairs to steal the cannabis and inferred Cairns had been responsible for inflicting the fatal injuries.

"I've done a couple of robberies and nobody died. The first time I take him someone dies," said Donne, while giving evidence.

What became clear at the trial was Donne knew Jack was vulnerable because he grew cannabis, or "weed", and sold it, which is illegal in the UK. Donne admitted he frequently "taxed" cannabis growers and suppliers.

Donne told the trial they went to Gendros, to the apartment of another friend and drug user, Donna Stokes, to pay her back US$51 (£40) he owed her for some crack cocaine they had bought off her. He paid her back using money he had stolen out of Jack's wallet.
The trial heard the day after the robbery Donne and Owen had sold the bags of cannabis they found in his home for US$192 (£150) to a local drug dealer called Wayne Paton, nicknamed Tojo, who turned up at their apartment in Gordon Thomas Close (pictured) in a black Mercedes. Donne had also stolen a 5kg bag of white powder, which he thought was cocaine, from Jack's house.

He tried it and thought it was "bum stuff", not realizing the white powder was fertiliser used for growing cannabis plants.

Jade Hill told the trial Donne was "stressed" when he arrived at her home on April 6.

"It all happened so quickly. It wasn't me, all I did was hit him. When I left he was alive," Donne told her. She said Donne was kicking himself for leaving behind £10,000 in a locked red tin box, which they had failed to spot among Jack's possessions. It is believed to have been money he received from selling cannabis.

On April 7 Donne was finally arrested by armed officers as he hid in the loft of a house in the West Cross district of Swansea.

Jack's body was discovered by his former girlfriend, Diane Ahearn, on Saturday, March 31, by hours before Swansea City — known as The Swans — kicked off their Premier League game at Manchester United.

Jack appeared to have been cultivating and selling the cannabis to supplement his pension, although his neighbor Paula Jones said she never remembered him having any visitors, except for his family.
"Diane texted me and said 'You better get down here, he's dead'," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.
Jack's brother, David Williams, 59, said the whole family had been shocked when they heard Jack had been killed and were flabbergasted when they found out he had been secretly growing cannabis, which was why he had been robbed.

"I had no idea. He never mentioned it to me and he'd never smoked it or taken any drugs. I visited his house about five or six times a year and you could never smell it and there was never anything suspicious. Apparently he'd been growing it in his attic. But he wasn't even on the police's radar," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.

Jack Williams was born in Luton, where his Welsh father, John — a veteran of Dunkirk and the battle of El Alamein — worked at the Vauxhall auto factory — but the family moved back to Swansea in 1965. When Jack left school he worked as a carpenter and a master builder and having four children — three with his wife and one from another relationship. He divorced in the late 1970s and bought the house in Bonymaen in 1998, where he had lived alone ever since. He worked with his brother after David left the Royal Navy but retired in 2013.

Mr. Williams said his brother was always careful with money and had a number of ISAs and pensions.

"The last time I saw him he said the state pension was not good enough. He was telling me that it was reduced because he had company pensions," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.
In April this year the Office for National Statistics released data showing Swansea and nearby Neath/Port Talbot were in the top 10 for opiate overdoses.
"The police told me it was suspicious but it wasn't until a few days later that they asked me if I knew he was growing cannabis," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.

He said gardening was one of Jack's few hobbies.

"Jack followed The Swans, but mainly only on the television, and he loved gardening. He made all his own furniture and he'd been big into tropical fish at one point but he gave it up because it cost too much in electricity," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.

Mr. Williams and other members of Jack's family sat through the four-week trial and he said they heard a lot of "lies" and 'sob stories" from the defendants.
"You can't report your weed being stolen because you would be arrested yourself. They don't get protected or feel safe and people say they are criminals," says Jamie Harris, the Service Manager with the Swansea drugs charity, Barod - which means Ready in Welsh and echoes their ethos that addicts have to be ready to kick their habit before they can make a real change.

"Many crimes affecting drug users are massively under-reported. People are being assaulted, sexually assaulted or taxed," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.

Swansea is not alone in having a serious drug problem — many other cities and towns across Wales, England, Scotland and many other parts of Europe have been scarred by the pain of deindustrialization.

The city of Swansea was forged in the industrial revolution of the 19th century when the nearby valleys were mined for coal and copper, which was turned into iron and steel at foundries and mills along the coast or exported from the port.

The population grew from 6,831 in 1801 to 134,000 in 1901 and in the 1930s the poet Dylan Thomas, who lived in Swansea, described it as an "ugly lovely town".

The last of the coal mines closed in the 1990s and a succession of heavy industries also shut down - the Corgi toy car factory in 1983, the BP petrochemical works at Baglan Bay in 2004 and the Wotsits potato chips factory in 2005.
A city in decline, a love affair with drugs
They were replaced by white collar jobs, like the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), which opened its national headquarters in the city in 1969 and remains its largest employer.

But in recent years well-paid jobs have been replaced by part-time jobs on minimum wage or zero-hours contracts.

"We have always had a historic opiate-using client base here and the need for the sale of opiates has always been there and then a few years ago County Lines came along but that was just a name for something that has always been here," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.

A documentary, Swansea Love Story, highlighted the city's heroin problem in 2013 and reported that out-of-town dealers were getting children as young as 11 hooked on heroin.

South Wales Police launched Operation Blue Thames shortly afterwards and to date 49 people have been convicted and sentenced to a total of 189 years in jail.

But still the drugs keep coming.

"Blue Thames has had some success with people bringing in drugs from London, Birmingham and Liverpool. They used vulnerable young kids, especially kids in care and those on the periphery of education. That is not unique to Swansea. When there is a demand for drugs it needs to be met," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.

He said the pushers had increased the availability of opiates and also the purity, leading to a rise in overdoses.
"The dealers' customer service has improved. They have three-for-two or two-for-one deals and mix and match — 'two browns and one white' which means two wraps of heroin and one of cocaine," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.
"My personal opinion is that cannabis is not a gateway drug. People take alcohol and they often experiment with recreational drugs because alcohol lowers our inhibition and masses of people take drugs or make bad choices while drunk. But there is no evidence that cannabis leads to crime or leads people to commit murder," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.
Some argue that taking cannabis inevitably leads to hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. But Jamie Harris disagrees and thinks it would be good to break the link between cannabis and hard drugs. He said some people with existing mental health issues could have their symptoms exacerbated by cannabis but that was a reason for legalizing it.
"Because it's unregulated you have to consider the product that's on the street and the user might be shocked by the strength," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.
He said in legalized markets like Canada buyers can purchase cannabis with specific levels of CBD (cannabidol) or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
"If you buy alcohol you look at the alcohol content on the bottle or can and you have that now in Canada with cannabis. But the prohibition doesn't allow you to shop around for the drugs which are milder or have any understanding of what you are buying," Mr. Harris told Sputnik.
"We will keep working to support our citizens to avoid addiction and live safe lives"
"We are fortunate in Swansea to have excellent working partnerships with other public services, who recognise that our increasingly impoverished community is being targeted by organised criminals; that welfare reform is making people desperate; that stress, anxiety and other mental health issues drive people to look for relief in the wrong places; and, crucially, that no single agency can solve this alone. In the context of the worst wealth inequality of my lifetime, where the Tory government continually seeks to widen the gap between rich and poor, we recognise the growing drug problem as an urgent one, and will keep working to support our citizens to avoid addiction and live safe lives," said Councillor Mary Sherwood, from Swansea City Council.
"The legal classification of drugs remains the responsibility of the UK Government and we believe classification should be considered on a UK-wide basis," a spokesman for the Welsh government told Sputnik.
Mr. Williams said his brother would probably have been alive if the drug had been legal.
"I know it's legal in Canada now because my eldest son lives there but I don't smoke it and nor does he. If it was legal Jack wouldn't have been growing it. They would have big farms set up to grow it and not people in their attics," Mr. Williams told Sputnik.
Donne had already killed before - and lied about it
Cairns told the trial he was intimidated by Donne, who had a manslaughter conviction for stabbing to death Michelle Harkett (pictured), a 36-year-old heroin addict in May 2007. Donne had killed Michelle, his then girlfriend, after a squabble over some heroin but he initially lied to the police and claimed a man called Lee Holt was responsible. Donne then pleaded guilty to manslaughter — claiming she came at him with a knife and he disarmed her and stabbed her — because the prosecution were unable to prove intent as there were no witnesses to the attack.
Some of the facts of the case underlined the venal nature of drug addiction. After killing Michelle, Donne had reached inside her body to remove a packet of heroin she had secreted inside. Mr. Justice Saunders sentenced Donne to 14 years in jail in March 2008 but he was released after just over eight. "This is a tragic and difficult case. It demonstrates the full horror of what can happen to people who are addicted to Class A drugs. As a direct consequence Miss Harkett is dead and the defendant faces a jail sentence," Mr. Justice Saunders said at the time.
Donne was classed as "dangerous" but when he was finally released from Swansea prison in February 2017 he soon relapsed into using heroin and robbing people to acquire the money to buy his drugs.
"He's a dangerous man and doesn't deserve to walk the streets. What he did to my brother he could have done to anyone in the local area," Mr. Williams told Sputnik. Donne had met Gemma Owen only four weeks prior to Jack's killing and they shared a love of hard drugs. Owen told the trial she had a £30-a-day heroin habit and had worked as a prostitute at times to pay for drugs. "I have it as soon as I wake up. The first one does not have an effect, it just makes you feel better. (The second one) makes you feel a bit off it. It makes your head a bit floaty," Owen told the court. Owen explained how she had fallen out with her grandmother after she stole her jewellery to pay for drugs. "She don't talk to me anymore. I was sick of hurting other people's feelings. "So I became a prostitute. I'd rather sell myself than hurt other people's feelings," Owen told the trial.

Owen also talked about her relationship with Donne. "He was lovely when he was lovely. There was a nasty side but I only seen it once," Owen told the jury. Donne made little effort to impress the jury when he gave evidence over three days between Wednesday, October 17, and Friday, October 19.

He wore a shapeless black Nike t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms on one day and his rambling version of events soon fell apart under cross examination by the barristers representing his co-defendants, even before prosecutor Mike Jones QC got his chance. Looking all of his 42 years, Donne, with his graying hair shaved down to his skull, spoke in a lilting Welsh accent which often belied the horror of his words. David Elias QC, representing Cairns, asked him about incident when Donne grabbed Gemma Owen and hit her face against a brick wall. "There's no way on Earth that happened. It's a lie," replied Donne. "I was trying to make her life better. I have had one tragedy in my life. Just that manslaughter. It doesn't make me a violent man. I'm not a domestic abuser," protested Donne.
Mr. Jones reminded Donne of the killing of Michelle Harkett and how he had tried to blame another man for her death. "That is what you are doing now, isn't it?" asked Mr. Jones, whose accent was reminiscent of the comedian Rob Brydon.
"No. I'm telling the truth," replied Donne.

"It's a desperate attempt to avoid the blame, isn't it?" persevered Mr. Jones.
Donne denied it and insisted he was "taking responsibility" for what he had done but said Jack was conscious and talking when he left him with Cairns, who had told him in the car as they left that the 67-year-old still had a pulse.

Ironically on Sunday, October 28, only days before the Jack Williams jury returned with their verdict, police found another cannabis factory in a house in the Townhill district of Swansea.
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Photos © South Wales Police, courtesy of Jack Williams' Family, AFP, Chris Summers
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