A MAN found tending a “substantial” cannabis farm in a large detached house was jailed for 28 months.

Police recovered 339 plants in various stages of growth, across five rooms of the rented property in Bishop Auckland, when they visited with a search warrant, on February 24 last year.

Durham Crown Court heard they were found wall-to-wall across five rooms, being grown with the aid of sophisticated lighting, heating and watering equipment, powered by an array of potentially dangerous electrical connections across the house, bypassing the meter.

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Engineers were called to ensure the property was made safe and officers spent some time bagging the plants to undergo subsequent examination.

Jonathan Harley, prosecuting, said they were confirmed to be of the skunk variety of cannabis plants, with a potential yield of 21.1kg, and an estimated street sale value of £21,100.

The only person present, Simon Jackson, made immediate admissions.

He was arrested and claimed he was growing the plants, set up the equipment., having installed the pumps, lighting and air filters, as well as bypassing the electricity meter.

Mr Harley said: “He was, effectively, suggesting he administered the grow.”

But, Mr Harley said examination of his record showed no previous drug-related offences.

The 31-year-old defendant, of Walker Drive, Bishop Auckland, admitted producing the class B drug, as well as a bail act offence for leaving court earlier in the week, before the hearing.

Tony Davis, mitigating, told Judge Christopher Prince: “Your honour won’t be surprised to hear, given the relatively unsophisticated past offences, he would not have had the where-with-all, expertise or dedication to have established a cottage industry on this scale.

“This was a rented house, in Durham Road, and the reality is that he developed a significant cocaine habit, for which he mounted a £2,000 debt, and the only way he could pay it off was to work as a ‘gardener’ in this operation, doing so on a daily basis without any expertise.

“When he was arrested he said what he had been told to say.”

“He now bitterly regrets it all and the consequences of the lifestyle and choices he has made.”

Jailing him, Judge Prince said wherever he came in the chain, Jackson played a role in the operation, for financial motivation, to pay off his drug debt.

He ordered forfeiture and destruction of the recovered plants and equipment and added a week to Jackson’s sentence for leaving court prior to the hearing earlier in the week.

The officer overseeing the case, Inspector Andy Reeves, said, at the time: “This is the biggest cannabis grow I have seen in my police service.

“It appears to be a very professional set-up and I am really pleased we have been able to stop these drugs circulating in the area.”