POLICE found a £67,000 drugs factory in a derelict pub after neighbour's complained about the strong smell of cannabis, a court heard.

There were three tents containing 148 plants and two more growing rooms in the basement of the property in Zetland Road near Middlesbrough town centre.

Officers discovered 292 plants in all and two propagators with 46 seedlings, and saw the electricity supply had been bypassed to pay for grow.

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Two men were arrested at the pub - one with a set of keys - and appeared at Teesside Crown Court after admitting producing Class B drugs.

A judge spared the pair - Thomas Livingstone and Michael Akinshinroju - prison because he said they should be working instead of burdening the state.

Akinshinroju, 38, initially claimed he was just sweeping the floor, then said he was working off a £300 debt after criminals threatened him.

Father-of-three Livingstone, 31, who had keys to the derelict pub, was said by his lawyer to have been on the periphery of the illegal drugs operation.

Robert Mochrie, mitigating, said Livingstone, who has no relevant previous convictions, worked on dismantling naval ships and his family are dependent on him.

“This was very much something he was brought into inadvertently," said Mr Mochrie. “Certainly he wasn’t profiting like those at the top of the chain were.

Akinshinroju had a three-year sentence in 2003 for possessing heroin with intent to supply on a record of 101 offences, Judge Peter Armstong was told.

John Nixon, defending him, said: “He was plainly exploited. He had a limited function acting under direction.”

He said Akinshinroju had not committed any drug-related crimes for seven years, had put his life back on track, worked hard and stayed out of trouble for five years.

“When one chooses to take drugs one runs the risk of becoming associated with those who are in a position to control you, and that’s what happened to him,” said Mr Nixon.

“He was approached in 2016 and threats were made to him. I understand that individuals who were recently released from lengthy terms of imprisonment were able to approach him and he, I’m afraid, succumbed.

“I think he had little option. He didn’t have the funds to pay what they wanted from him.”

He said Akinshinroju showed remorse, arguing prison would be an “utterly retrograde step” for a man remanded in custody while his partner expected their child.

Judge Armstrong said he was satisfied the pair played lesser roles, and told them: “You were helping out in order to pay off debts.

“Obviously the wrong way to pay off debts, taking the risk of trading your liberty in order to do so. You were effectively caught red-handed.

“There’s no evidence at all that you’d set up this grow.

“It would be more useful if you were not in custody but working and looking after your families, and providing them with the means to live rather than being a burden on the state.”

Akinshinroju, of Oldfields Road, Normanby, got a one-year jail term, and Livingstone, of Nightengale Road, Eston, received eight months, each suspended for two years with 200 hours’ unpaid work.