A MAN found tending a large-scale cannabis grow in a late Victorian terraced property claims to be the victim of modern-day slavery.

The Albanian immigrant, settled in this country since 2015 and with residency until 2024, claims he was taken from his Sheffield home and brought to the North-East before being placed in the mid-terrace town house in Durham.

He was found at the address, in Nevilledale Terrace, off Crossgate Peth, and arrested when police, armed with a warrant, carried out a search at 8.40am on Wednesday June 24.

Durham Crown Court was told officers found cannabis plants being grown in different stages of maturity, in most rooms, which were fitted out with sophisticated heating, lighting and watering equipment.

An officer, expert in drug production, gave an estimated valuation of a potential gain of £1m a year from the process.

The 46-year-old defendant appeared via video link from Durham Prison at a plea hearing at the court, sitting in Newcastle.

Speaking via an Albanian interpreter, he denied producing cannabis.

Judge Ray Singh said: “I think he accepts he was involved in the production, but believes he was subject of modern slavery.”

Jonathan Harley, prosecuting, agreed and said the defendant’s case has been passed on to the National Referral Mechanism, within the Home Office, which identifies victims of modern slavery and trafficking.

“It normally takes about 45 days but is running behind because of the current circumstances.”

A trial date was set for the week of October 5, with a single-day hearing estimate.

Defence counsel Tony Davis asked for his client to be granted bail, in the meantime, stating he has a stable, settled family address in Sheffield and a residence card applying for the next four years.

“He asserts he was the victim of modern day slavery, having been taken from his home in Sheffield, where he has lived since 2015, and has strong community ties.

“We invite the court to take the view he’s a man of no previous convictions. There should be no presumption made that he would offend or reoffend.”

Judge Singh said it would be for a jury to decide if the defendant is guilty or not, but as he considers there is a “significant risk” of him failing to return for trial, he remanded him in custody until the trial, in early October.