AN illegal immigrant from Vietnam was placed in a rented property in a County Durham village to tend a large cannabis growing operation, a court was told.

Trieu Dinh Tran was allowed to live in the terraced house on the basis he helped to oversee the growth of hundreds of plants across several rooms and the loft space.

Durham Crown Court heard the pungent smell from the house aroused the attention of neighbours in Helmington Row, near Crook, who reported their suspicions to police.

Officers visited the property in Coronation Terrace on November 24 and, after receiving no reply to knocks at the front door, went to the back entrance, which was opened by Tran.

Rachel Masters said it was immediately evident to the officers that cannabis was being grown there once the door was opened.

Tran initially tried to prevent police gaining entry, but, once inside, officers recovered a total of 230 plants at different stages of growth and seized a “significant amount” of equipment aiding their cultivation.

Depending on the quality and success of the yield it was estimated the recovered plants could provide a return of between £63,700 and £191,400 in street sale terms.

Tran told police he was brought to the address by a man he met in Birmingham who offered him accommodation in exchange for tending the plants, cutting them and hanging them to dry.

He claimed he was unaware it was illegal to grow cannabis in the UK.

The 30-year-old defendant, who has remained in custody in Durham Prison since his arrest, admitted a single count of being involved in the production of cannabis.

Miss Masters said he has no known previous convictions.

Ian West, mitigating, said Tran played a “lesser role” in the ‘farm’.

“His story is a familiar one.

“He came to this country having paid a lot of money in the hope of bettering himself and being able to provide for his family in Vietnam.

“He ended up in the North-East of England where he has no friends or family and he was not provided with any money.

“His only link with his family in Vietnam was a phone obtained by him months before he came here.”

Judge James Adkin said Tran was tending, “in effect, a factory”, with the “modest benefit” of being provided with accommodation.

He imposed a 12-month prison sentence after which Tran may be released on licence, or deported.

The judge also ordered destruction of the seized plants and equipment.