SIX men were starting prison sentences last night after police broke up a £300,000 drugs operation based in a quiet village.

The six, including four illegal Vietnamese immigrants, were sentenced to a total of ten years in jail for their part in running a £300,000 skunk cannabis farm.

All had admitted offences of being concerned in the production of cannabis, a controlled drug, at an earlier hearing at Teesside Crown Court.

They were caught almost accidentally in November when police went to 44-year-old Garry Noble's farm in Goosecroft Lane, East Harlsey, near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, to help Revenue and Customs officials with a revenue inquiry.

What they found took them by surprise -a large turkey shed at the farm that had been kitted-out for the large-scale commercial production of skunk cannabis.

Officers found 2,800 plants, with a street value of £300,000, at various stages of growth, and evidence of a professional operation to grow cannabis at 44-year-old Gary Hutchinson's farm at Londonderry, near Bedale. There, they found the remains of a lighting and irrigation system.

Hutchinson had relocated to Noble's farm at East Harlsey, taking a lot of his equipment with him.

Yesterday, Hutchinson was sentenced to three years in prison, while Noble was jailed for two.

Four Vietnamese men, illegal immigrants who had been looking after the plants at Noble's farm, were also jailed.

Nhu Khoa Dinh, 30, was sentenced to 15 months, Cuong Manh Nguyen, 19, was given 15 months, Hai Thanh Dang, 37, was given 13 months in prison and Hiep Hao Dinh, 18, was jailed for 15 months.

Detective Sergeant Steve Smith, of North Yorkshire's organised crime unit, said outside court: "The scale of cannabis cultivation was staggering, and a significant threat has been removed from the streets of North Yorkshire and beyond.

"The issue of growing cannabis on such a large scale by people of Vietnamese origin has become something of a national problem, and I hope that today's sentences will send a clear message to anyone else considering such an operation.

"There may be other criminals who consider the rural areas of North Yorkshire to be a suitable location for large-scale skunk farming, despite the sentences given these men.

"I am asking residents with information or intelligence about such matters to call the police on 0845-60-60-247."

Alternatively, people can call Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111.