A cannabis farmer brought from London to oversee an illicit grow in County Durham has received a two-year prison sentence.

But Fjorelo Rama is likely to be deported at the mid-point of the sentence as he is in the UK illegally.

The 25-year-old Albanian national was arrested after police, accompanied by electricity company engineers, visited a property in Ouston, near Chester-le-Street, on Monday, June 20.

Durham Crown Court heard that it was suspected the power supply had been tampered with at the property, in The Oval.

Lewis Kerr, prosecuting, said the door had to be forced open to enable the officers to gain access, but Rama ran off and was apprehended and arrested later.

Officers searching the property found three rooms given over to the production of cannabis, with a total of 238 plants in various stages of growth recovered.

Mr Kerr said the estimated value of the cannabis in terms of sales was put at £75,000.

The growing equipment found in the three rooms was valued at £11,000, and the defendant’s fingerprints were recovered from some of the seized items.

Mr Kerr said although three mobile phones were also found at the address, there was no evidence of involvement in dealing the farmed cannabis found on them.

But he said due to the number of plants involved it was considered that as the “gardener”, Rama played a "significant role" in the operation.

Mark Styles, in mitigation, said the defendant came to the UK illegally in 2018 intending to find work to enable him to send money home for his mother, to help her look after his two older disabled brothers.

He initially found employment on a construction site in London, but it was someone working there, also of Albanian origin, who offered him work in the North East and facilitated his move to the address at Ouston to look after the plants.

Read more: Cannabis plants were growing 'wall to wall' in two bedrooms of Thornley house

Mr Styles said Rama played no part in the setting up or equipping of the ‘farm’, as the grow was already underway when he arrived.

He was promised payment when the crop was fully harvested, so he never actually received any remuneration for his efforts, due to the police interruption of the operation.

“It would have been a small amount, but the exact figure is not clear.

“He had no influence on those above him in the chain and no financial control.”

Judge Ray Singh described it as “an extremely professional set-up” and the defendant would have been aware of its scale.

“The equipment used had cost somebody the best part of £11,000.

“Whoever installed that level of equipment was clearly going to expect to make a profit from it.”

He told Rama: “People like you play a crucial part in the grow process and there can be no doubt you knew of the scale of the operation, involving 238 plants.

“And, you were expecting some financial reward for your part in the work.”

Passing sentence, Judge Singh told Rama: “You will serve half of the sentence in custody and, thereafter, automatic deportation should take place.”

The judge also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the seized plants and equipment.

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