MEN accused of conspiring to murder dad-of-two John Louden have told a jury that they were only planning to burgle his home, believing that there was a cannabis farm.

Mr Louden, aged 50, was shot in the stomach outside the bedroom at his Glebelands Road, Prestwich, home by armed intruders who burst into his detached house on the evening of November 27.

Barristers representing the defendants, Steven O’Donnell, Dominic Burke, Matthew Moss and Anthony Ward began making closing speeches yesterday following a five week trial and Judge Timothy Clayson is expected to sum up the evidence today before the jury of eight women and four men retire to begin considering their verdicts.

The prosecution alleges that O’Donnell was the driving force behind a conspiracy to kill Mr Louden and the only one of the defendants who knew the victim. Mrs Louden’s daughters were at school with O’Donnell’s sister.

They claim it was Burke and Ward who broke into the house with a third man, with Ward carrying a machete. Burke was said to be carrying a sawn off shotgun which he fired at Mr Louden and left him with severe abdominal injuries.

O’Donnell used a borrowed Fiat 500 car to show the others Louden’s home and Moss was a part of the gang which visited the house a day earlier, but was said to have got “cold feet” about the plan and pulled out of returning with the others.

Addressing the jury, John Harrison QC, defending O’Donnell, stressed that the prosecution has been unable to discover any motive for the defendants wanting to kill Mr Louden.

O’Donnell, aged 24, of Carr Avenue, Prestwich, has admitted conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary but denies conspiracy to murder.

O’Donnell, who declined to go into the witness box to give evidence in his own defence, as did Burke, claims that he believed cannabis was being grown at the house and that was what they planned to steal.

No cannabis farm was at the house, although there were small amounts of the drug hidden at the property which Mr Louden had for personal use.

“The elephant in the room is motive. Why would these people who didn’t know each other get together to kill Mr Louden?” said Mr Harrison.

“A motive is important because it must colour what inference it is reasonable for you to draw,” he told the jury.

He stressed that that the defence believes there is not enough circumstantial evidence to prove conspiracy to murder.

Mr Harrison said: “The question which should be at the centre of the case is ‘why?’

“He [O’Donnell] has agreed all the evidence brought by the prosecution. All he disputes is the conclusion they have drawn.

“The police and prosecution have not been able to find any motive.”

Moss, a 28-year-old mechanic, of Rydal Avenue, Chadderton denies involvement in conspiracies to commit murder and aggravated burglary.

Francis Fitzgibbon QC, defending, said that Moss had considered burgling the house but had pulled out when they went to the house on November 26 and he believed someone was at home.

He said he was unaware of a decision to take a gun to the property the following day.

“He was smoking too much cannabis and had an unhealthy interest in getting hold of it by hook or by crook,” said Mr Fitzgibbon.

“The man is not a plaster saint. He is a petty criminal with some dodgy mates. But it is a far cry from stealing stealing from an illegal cannabis farm to setting up a murder.

“The prosecution have talked up an armed burglary that went disastrously wrong into a conspiracy that never happened at all.”

Two other defendants also claim they believed Mr Louden had a cannabis farm which they wanted to steal.

Burke, aged 21, of Whinfell Drive, Middleton, denies conspiracy to murder but has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, intentionally causing grievous bodily harm and possessing a firearm.

Anthony Ward, aged 29, of Braithwaite Road, Middleton, denies conspiracy to murder and aggravated burglary. A fifth man, Waseem Ahmed, aged 29, of Greenstead Avenue, Manchester, was acquitted of conspiracy to murder part way through the trial.

The trial continues.