AN illegal immigrant was paid to tend a cannabis farm set up in a terraced house in a coastal village.

Police, armed with a search warrant, visited the property in Blackhall Colliery, at 11.20am on July 9.

As officers approached the property in Coronation Avenue, Adriatik Zeka tried to flee via the back door.

Durham Crown Court was told he was detained and when arrested, two mobile phones were seized from the Albanian national.

The property was searched and cannabis plants were found to be I a state of growth in two rooms and in the loft area.

Victoria Lamballe, prosecuting, said: “A total of 37 plants were found along with the usual lighting, watering and venting systems.”

Zeka was interviewed with the assistance of an Albanian interpreter and he told police he was dropped off at the address seven months earlier.

He said he would be paid £1,500 to live at the property and water the plants on behalf of the Kosovan owners.

“There’s clearly an argument as to the extent of his role in this operation, but he was clearly performing the function of a ‘gardener’.

“The Crown would say he was receiving £1,500-per-month to carry out that function,” added Miss Lamballe.

The 25-year-old defendant admitted a charge of being concerned in the production of cannabis.

Paul Cleasby, for Zeka, said he has no previous convictions and immediately came clean to police about his role when interviewed.

“It’s not suggested he has any influence over anyone else in the chain.

“It may well be his vulnerability as an ‘illegal’ in this country may have been taken advantage of by those more sophisticated than he.”

Judge James Adkin said Zeka was still a “significant” player in the cannabis production, “being paid for his work”, at that address.

“Because he was living at that house he must have had some awareness or understanding of the scale of the ‘farm’.”

Judge Adkin imposed an eight-month prison sentence and told Zeka: “You will serve half of that sentence and then you should be released and deported back to Albania.”

The judge also asked the Crown to seek a police “community impact statement” as to the scale of the problem of cannabis farms operated by illegal immigrants from Albania, due to the number of cases coming to the court in recent weeks.