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Locked up: Cannabis farmers in triad link
9:58am Saturday 30th September 2006 in News
EIGHT people who ran three North-East drugs factories believed to be linked to London-based triads were given jail sentences yesterday.
The seven men and one woman, who are all of Vietnamese origin, had been involved in the large-scale cultivation of cannabis at three houses in County Durham.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that each cannabis factory had the potential to yield crops worth £200,000 a year.
Police were alerted to the operation when a member of the public reported suspicious activity at a house in Murphy Crescent, on the Woodhouse Close estate, in Bishop Auckland.
Officers raided the property on September 10 last year, and were amazed to discover the house had been converted into a sophisticated cannabis cultivation operation.
The property was jointly owned by Thai Thi Vu, 45, of Collingwood Street, Coundon, and Than Van Liu, 42, of Brancepeth Road, Ferryhill.
They had bought the property in March last year with the sole intention of converting it into a cannabis farm, where 55-year-old sailor Hai Van Tran, an illegal immigrant, was employed as a "gardener".
Within a week, police investigations led them to a series of other properties across the county.
Almost identical factories were discovered at properties in Haig Terrace, Ferryhill, owned by Kuay Khin Dip, 47, from London, and in High Street, West Cornforth, owned by Michael Quan, 43, of School Avenue, West Rainton, and Dip.
More than 400 seedlings and 1.8 kilos of cannabis were discovered at the home of Thai Thi Vu and her 25-year-old husband, Quang Xuan Vu.
Thien Van Nguyen, 24, had been paid to work as a driver's mate, delivering the equipment, and Nam Nguyen, 17, had taken a job as a gardener at Haig Terrace to repay a family debt.
Forensic evidence also led police to the home of a ninth person, Phuc Danh San, 47, of Eden Close, Coundon, where they found growing equipment in the garage.
Judge Michael Cartlidge said the group could be split into two, according to their level of involvement in the operation.
The "administrators" bought cheap properties with the sole intention of converting them into cannabis farms, and the "gardeners" were employed to tend the crops.
He said: "Defendants Liu, Tran, Mrs Vu, Dip, Mr Vu and Quan were involved in conspiracy to produce huge quantities of cannabis.
"There may be more important persons still to be arrested."
Thai Thi Vu, Dip and Quan, were each sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison. Liu was jailed for five-and-a-half years.
Police have been unable to trace Quang Xuan Vu and believe he may have returned to Vietnam. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in his absence.
Tran, Thien Van Nguyen and Nam Nguyen, were sentenced to 24, 15 and four months respectively. The teenager will serve his sentence as a detention and treatment order at a young offenders' institution.
The three are expected to be deported after serving their sentence.
Liu, Thien Van Nguyen and Nam Nguyen pleaded guilty at earlier proceedings, but the other six were convicted by a jury after a three-and-a-half week trial.
Each was convicted of conspiracy to supply class C drugs, except Thien Van Nguyen, who admitted being concerned with the production of cannabis.