A JUDGE told two east European men jailed for involvement in a cannabis farm operation that they may have come to Durham thinking the streets were paved with gold.

But Judge Ray Singh said it was not the case and added that it is the courts’ intention that Durham’s streets are not, “paved with cannabis”.

The judge was addressing Dorian Baboci, 32, an Albanian who holds an Italian passport, and Romanian Nicusor Vranceanu, 24, who were arrested on February 4 at what was described as “a sophisticated cannabis farm operation”, set up at house in Fallow Road, Newton Aycliffe.

Both admitted concern in the production of cannabis.

Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, told Durham Crown Court 84 cannabis plants, plus 45 seedlings, were recovered by police from the house and garage, while the electricity meter was bypassed.

The sale value, depending on the yield, was put at between £38,920, and £116,760.

Duncan McReddie, for Baboci, said he came to the UK looking for work to send money back to his sick wife and family, in Italy, and was employed in a car wash in Durham until it closed in the first lockdown.

He had to borrow money and in repayment was asked to work as “a welfare officer”, taking food and fertiliser for the canabis farmers.

Stephen Hamill, for Vranceanu, said he arrived in the UK legally prior to January 1 and has until June to apply for “settled status”.

Mr Hamill said he was homeless and begging in Durham before being approached by those running the operation offering him somewhere to stay providing he watered plants in the house.

He was performing that role for a month when he was arrested, added Mr Hamill.

Judge Singh told the pair: “You may have been told the streets of Durham are, indeed, paved with gold and that is, maybe, why you came.

“That’s not true, but neither are the courts of Durham allowing the streets of Durham to be paved with cannabis.”

He imposed a 30-month prison sentence on Baboci and Vranceanu received a 23-month sentence.

The judge also ordered forfeiture of £3,172 seized from the pair on arrest, plus a Peugeot car used by Baboci, while forfeiture and destruction was ordered for the cannabis plants and growing equipment.

He said he has no jurisdiction over what happens to the pair on their release.