A BID to confiscate nearly £50,000 from a man under proceeds of crime laws has failed and he has been freed from jail early.

James Houten said the cash — found under a kitchen sink beside thousands of pounds worth of the drug — belonged to his late father.

Houten, 48, told a court hearing that his dad, also James, withdrew the money from a bank in 2014 and held on to it for years before giving it to him 'for safekeeping' in February 2018.

The class A drug offender — who was arrested two months later — said the money was part of his father's estate and he'd been given instructions by him to disburse it to relatives after his death.

Houten was sentenced to 23 months imprisonment in March after pleading guilty to being concerned in the supply of cocaine but the Tele can reveal that this was recently reduced to a community payback order on appeal.

He said of the money: "My father said I was to be executor because I am the oldest.

"He said he'd saved it up and took it out of the bank."

Houten was officially residing with his father at Davaar Road but spent most of his time at his partner's home at Strone Crescent because he is a carer for her son.

He told Greenock Sheriff Court: "My dad was always going on holidays.

"He wanted me to keep the money at Strone Crescent because there was always someone there 24/7."

Bank transactions from 2014 and cheque stubs with the names of family members showed that £40,000 had been withdrawn by Mr Houten snr in August and September of that year.

His son — whose criminal case heard he'd had £47,960 seized by police — said that his dad had handed him £50,000 on Valentine's Day in 2014 from money he'd had in the bank 'and saved up separately'.

It was in bags of £5,000 each within two containers under the sink, with one of the £5,000 bundles wrapped in a white bank sleeve with a 2014 date on it.

Asked by procurator fiscal depute Gavin Whyte why he didn't put the money in a bank account, Houten replied: "It was my father's wishes.

"I didn't do that because it wasn't my money."

Houten's brother John — who told the court that he was now executor of the will — said that he was present at the meeting and cash handover with their father.

He said: "I want to be able to execute my dad's will.

"It's my dad's money and it always has been my dad's money.

"Justice has been served on James and we still have an injustice against the family.

"It was stupid for him to have done what he's done but it's put me and the rest of the family in this predicament."

Houten's lawyer, David Nicholson, pointed out that the Crown had already accepted that his client had been holding the £3,000 worth of cocaine for a friend for less than 24 hours when he was caught with it.

Fiscal depute Mr Whyte said there was an absence of independent witnesses to testify about the money.

He said: "The withdrawals were made four years before the cash was recovered.

"It would be more compelling of the money had been withdrawn a week or a month before the police search."

Sheriff Derek McIntyre said the circumstances of the seizure 'gave rise to considerable suspicion'.

He added that the bank banding around one batch of notes with the 2014 date was 'of considerable force' and that Houten's brother's testimony was 'very compelling'.

The sheriff made no order for confiscation and ordered that the money be delivered back to the late Mr Houten's estate.

Meanwhile appeal judges have outlined why they decided that Houten should be released from jail, citing 'exceptional' circumstances.

A written judgement, delivered by Lord Drummond Young, noted his only previous convictions were for road traffic offences and said the drugs offence was 'out of character'.

It also highlighted Houten's caring responsibilities.

The judgement said: "We have decided that this is a case that might exceptionally, and we would emphasise exceptionally, be dealt with by a community payback order.

"We would propose that such an order should be for the period of three years and should be subject to an unpaid work requirement of 250 hours of unpaid work to be completed over a period of 12 months."