AN illegal immigrant was brought to a house in the North East to act as a gardener in a cannabis growing operation, a court heard.

As Eridon Hasanpapaj was in debt to those who brought him to the UK illegally he felt had no choice but to comply when driven from London and brought to the former County Durham mining village of Thornley.

Durham Crown Court was told he was placed in a house in Asquith Street which had been fitted with up to £3,000-worth of professional growing equipment.

Shaun Dodds, prosecuting, said police, armed with a search warrant, went to the property, forcing the door on March 23.

Officers found cannabis plants growing “wall to wall” in two upstairs bedrooms, fitted with lighting, fans and timers, while the electricity meter was bypassed, providing free power.

Mr Dodds said a total of 63 plants, of between six and eight weeks into cultivation, were recovered.

They were given a valuation in terms of potential sales of between £17,000 and £52,000.

Hasanpapaj, who was the only person present, was arrested. He was found in possession of cash in a wallet and an identity card.

Mr Dodds said there was a bed in the living room, with ample food supplies in the fridge, while there were keys on the inside of both the front and back doors.

Although he made no comment to police when interviewed, with the assistance of an Albanian interpreter, the 22-year-old defendant, who has no previous convictions, admitted producing a class B drug at a hearing last month.

Read more: Cannabis farmers jailed after illegal 'grows' are rumbled

John Hobley, representing the defendant, said his guilty plea was on a basis that he was only brought to the house 20 days before the police attended and his role was merely that of “a gardener”.

“The background is that he was indebted to those who brought him to this country and he was approached by men in London, who spoke no Albanian.

“They told him to get into a car and was then driven to this address.

“He was given instructions what to do when he arrived at the house.

“Given his debt, he felt he had no choice but to comply with the instructions he was given.

“It’s not contested it was a professional set up, but he was a ‘cog’ in the wider operation and very much an isolated ‘cog’.”

Judge Ray Singh said although he was only placed there as the ‘gardener’, the defendant would have been aware of the scale of the operation.

Imposing a 12-month prison sentence, Judge Singh said the defendant would serve half and then, “I would anticipate”, be deported.

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