TWO men set up a cannabis farm in an uninhabited house as one of them was under pressure to meet a £3,000 drug debt, a court heard.

Matthew Soutar succumbed to the approaches and went along with the plan to fit out the three-bedroom property with sophisticated paraphernalia to grow the class B drug.

Durham Crown Court was told one of his friends, Nyall Neilson, helped Soutar to set up the “significant” operation at the house, in Consett.

But, it was the bypassing of the electricity meter to acquire free power supply, that led to it being brought to police attention.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said the supply company raised concerns over the amount of power being used at the address in Thornfield Road.

Police went to the property on September 7, 2017, and found cannabis being grown in the three bedrooms, each covered by plastic screens.

Nielson’s finger prints were found on the screens and door frame.

Mr Baker said 93 plants in a mature state of growth were recovered, with a potential yield of between 2.6 and 7.6kg, worth between £18,600 and £26,000 in sale terms.

Five days later Soutar, whose name the property went under, contacted police and delivered a prepared statement admitting responsibility for the grow and the bypassing of the meter.

He initially claimed the cannabis being grown was for his own use, but by his subsequent basis of plea, he conceded that was not true.

Mr Baker said the value of the electricity illegally gained was £6,692.

Soutar, 25, of James Terrace, Coronation, and Neilson, 26, of Oxford Street, Eldon Lane, both near Bishop Auckland, each admitted producing a class B drug, between June and September 2017, while Soutar also admitted abstracting electricity.

Mark Styles, for Soutar, said he had run up a £3,000 drug debt, through cocaine use, and was, “essentially presented with an ultimatum,” to set up the operation in lieu of payment.

“He succumbed to pressure from those unscrupulous individuals and admits he was a fool to go along with it. He was naïve and clearly out of his depth.”

Graeme Cook, for Neilson, said he was only involved at the outset, to help his friend, but, “never even saw any plants being grown there.”

Despite being urged to pass suspended sentences, Judge Christopher Prince said it would send out, “the wrong message” to others setting up such a, “significant operation.”

He jailed Soutar, who has no previous convictions, for 20-months and passed an 18-month sentence on Neilson.