AN illegal immigrant in debt to his traffickers felt he had little choice but to follow instruction to tend a domestic cannabis grow, a court heard.

Andi Daci was present at the premises when police, armed with a search warrant, visited a house in Craddock Street, Spennymoor, on January 20, this year.

Durham Crown Court was told the officers found 108 cannabis plants in different stages of growth from various rooms in the property.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said they also seized sophisticated growing paraphernalia, worth an estimated £7,600, which a police expert estimated was in its first year of usage, but which appeared to have been used for a previous growth cycle.

The plants recovered were believed to be capable of producing between three and ten kilograms pf cannabis, with a lowest bulk sale value of £15,000, but a highest street sale total of £90,720.

Mr Baker said the officers believed it was likely that the produce would have been intended for wholesale distribution.

Daci, an Albanian national, was arrested and found to be in possession of Romanian identity papers.

His mobile phone and £160 were also seized.

When he was interviewed he told police he had been trafficked and taken to an address at which he was told to act as a gardener, feeding and watering the plants.

He would converse with those who trafficked him via the phone, but he denied responsibility for the bypassing of the electric meter at the property, thus providing free power supply.

Daci claimed his only responsibility was to help the growth of the plants, which he had been doing for about three weeks.

Mr Baker said while it was accepted he was acting as a gardener, “under direction” of others, “there must have been an awareness of the scale of the operation.”

Daci, 21, admitted producing a class B drug.

Peter Hamill, in mitigation, said he was of previous good character and initially wanted to come to the UK to find work, but did not have a visa.

“Unfortunately, he then became involved in being transported to the UK through an illicit group, and, in doing so, fell into debt.

“He wants me to advance on his behalf his actions were out of character for him.

“He acted as a gardener and, while he was aware of what was being grown, he didn’t fully appreciate the full scale of the overall operation involved.”

Judge James Adkin said Daci may have been working to repay a debt, but he performed a function in the operation, albeit under instruction.

Imposing a 22-month prison sentence, he said Daci would serve half in prison and, thereafter, would be released on licence and face deportation from this country.