THREE more men have been jailed for involvement in illegal cannabis farm operations in rented residential properties in County Durham.

Neritan Bala, 28, of no fixed abode, was this week given a 21-month prison sentence, after admitting production of cannabis, at Durham Crown Court.

It follows a police visit to a terraced house in High Grange, near Crook, following reports from neighbours, in late April.

Durham Crown Court heard as officers called at the front of the property, Bala tried to flee via the back door, but was detained, and found to be in possession of keys to the house, a mobile phone, a driving licence, a travel card and £230, which was seized.

Officers found the electric supply had been bypassed and recovered 110 cannabis plants in various levels of growth using lighting, fans and transformers, in the dining room, two bedrooms and the loft space.

Bala, an Albanian national, told police he had been working at that address, watering the plants, to pay for his travel to the UK.

He explained upon arrival on January 24 his passport was removed and he was placed in the house to act as a gardener.

Christine Egerton, for Bala, said it was, “clearly a commercial enterprise, but not of his making”.

She said the defendant, the oldest of four brothers living in a town in northern Albania, came to this country illegally to try to make money to meet debts built up after paying for his, now, late mother to receive treatment for cancer in Macedonia.

Judge Ray Singh said although acting as a gardener, “it could not have escaped his attention the nature or scale of the operation.”

Jailing Bala, Judge Singh also ordered forfeiture of the plants, the growth paraphernalia and the cash seized.

He asked the Crown to look at the potential to compensate the landlord in this and other similar cases for the damage caused by those setting up cannabis operations.

In a separate recent case at the court, Judge Singh imposed prison sentences of 27 months and 22 months, respectively, on other men of Albanian background, Edisan Kortoci, 24, and 35-year-old Adrian Lamaj.

Kortoci, of Dunstable, in Bedfordshire, and Lamaj, of no fixed address, both admitted being concerned in the production of a class B drug, after police recovered 290 cannabis plants in various states of growth from an address in Alexandrina Street, Seaham, on March 16.