AN illegal immigrant took a cut of the proceeds of a cannabis farm he was tending to repay the loan he needed to pay to come to the UK from Albania, a court heard.

Ardit Zonja was arrested after police forced their way into a terraced house in Wood Street, Spennymoor, on January 15, this year.

Durham Crown Court was told the officers, acting on suspicions about activities at the property, immediately became aware of a pungent smell from the house on arrival, shortly before 9am.

There was no reply to knocks at the door, but a male figure was seen through a frosted bathroom window on the ground floor, although he quickly moved out of sight on seeing police outside.

Rachel Masters, prosecuting, said there was no response to shouts for him to open the door, so the door was forced and, on gaining access, it was immediately obvious to the police team that a cannabis operation was in full flow.

Four rooms were filled with plants in various stages of growth, with lighting, watering and other equipment aiding cultivation.

Zonja was found hiding in the loft and he was arrested while a total of 210 plants were recovered from the house.

Miss Masters said they had a potential yield in sale terms of between £56,000 and £176,000.

Zonja told police he paid £10,000 in Albania to get false papers to come to the UK and, on arrival, was taken to Manchester where “an associate” arranged for him to go to the address in Spennymoor.

He was tasked with watering the plants and in about six months at the property this was the third “grow”.

Miss Masters said Zonja told police the arrangement was for him to receive a 20-per cent cut of the profits from the grows, making £4,400 by that stage to pay off his loan, but with hopes of reaching £7,000 had the police not interrupted the operation.

Zonja, 27, admitted producing the class B drug.

Ian West, mitigating, said although the prosecution claimed he played a “significant role” in the operation, he argued it was a “lesser role”, with his motivation merely to meet his debt to the “Albanian gang of criminals”, to avoid, “having holes drilled into his knee caps.”

Jailing him for 16 months, Judge James Adkin said Zonja was the “gardener” for the operation.

He said on release at the midway point of the sentence he will either be subject to licence supervision or be deported.