AN illegal immigrant was put up in a rented property, on the basis that he tended a large-scale cannabis growing operation taking up much of the house, a court was told.

Albanian Renato Brahimaj, who entered the UK illegally two months earlier, tried to flee via the rear of the premises when police executed a search warrant at a house in Craddock Street, Spennymoor, on Monday October 14.

He was detained by officers who found the house containing what prosecutor Paul Cleasby told Durham Crown Court was, “a sophisticated cannabis grow.”

“Three upstairs bedrooms were full of mature plants, in good condition. Harvesting looking imminent.

“In the loft there were found to be more, less mature plants, all supported by professional equipment.”

In all, 316 plants were recovered by police.

Mr Cleasby said the defendant appeared to be sleeping in the living room, while the fridge was stocked with food and water.

Electricity top-up receipts from a local convenience store were found in the house and cctv from that shop showed Brahimaj visiting to buy them.

On arrest Brahimaj was found in possession of two mobile phones.

“It appears he provided an operational function and was clearly aware of the scale of the commercial operation,” added Mr Cleasby.

The 23-year-old defendant admitted producing the class B drug.

Duncan McReddie, mitigating, said he was not trafficked, but came willingly to the UK to raise money to send home to meet repayments for a loan to cover the cost of medical treatment for his seriously ill mother.

The trained mechanic worked in Albania, but his wages were insufficient to make the repayments.

“He, therefore, came to this country to find work and admits he entered illegally.”

Mr McReddie said on arrival he lived rough for a few weeks until he met another Albanian who told him he would find him accommodation, which is how he came to be in Spennymoor tending the cannabis grow.

Jailing him for 20 months, Judge James Adkin said the defendant played a role at the lower end of the chain, as a “gardener” for what was, “a large cannabis farm.”

He told Brahimaj: “You will serve half of that sentence and then be released on licence or deported.”

Forfeiture and confiscation was ordered for the seized plants and equipment.