AN Albanian man was found tending a large-scale cannabis farm in disused retail premises.

Illegal immigrant Danjel Dajti was in a makeshift bedroom, on an upper floor of the building, on Bede Street, Easington Colliery, when police executed a search warrant, at 8am on October 13.

Durham Crown Court was told it was considered, “a highly professional cannabis farm”, with plants grown in several rooms.

Paul Cross, prosecuting, said police found expensive lighting, fans, transformers, and sheeting, while the electricity meter was bypassed to provide free power supply.

A total of 403 plants were recovered, with the potential for two harvests a year.

Mr Cross said officers believed “clearly experienced growers”, were involved, using equipment valued at £26,000 if bought new.

“Some of the equipment being used was new, as the original boxes were found.”

Mr Cross said: “A farm of this scale would be used for bulk and wholesale production, with the potential value of the cannabis, if sold on the street, of between £125,000 and £377,000, or of between £46,000 and £138,000 if sold on a wholesale basis.”

Even on a bulk sale basis there was potential to raise between £21,000 and £103,000.

Dajti, who made no comment in interview, has no known previous convictions.

But Mr Cross said he clearly played, “a significant role”.

The defendant, aged 29, admitted producing a controlled drug of class B.

Martin Scarborough, in mitigation, said Dajti arrived in this country illegally three months before his arrest.

“Like many before him it cost him £15,000 and he thought it would be a benefit for him and his family if he were to find work.

“He accepts he became involved in this illegal activity.

“Others took him there and he became involved looking after these plants, but was initially unaware of the scale.”

Judge Ray Singh said: “This sort of operation is all too common and these courts have seen this type of set up on a regular basis.

“Those prepared to make such an outlay in terms of equipment would have expected a significant return.

“The message must go back to your countrymen that those involved in this type of set up have to go to prison.”

Imposing a three-year prison sentence Judge Singh said Dajti would serve the first half in custody and after that would be deported.