A Vietnamese banking director found himself tending a cannabis farm in the North East after he fell into debt and was smuggled into the country to repay it.

Le Van Cong was arrested following a raid on a three-storey property in Hartlepool town centre after a police drone heat map picked out suspicious activity at the premises on York Road.

The 37-year-old was looking after around 810 plants across eight rooms in the building and had a book full of instructions to tend the plants in his possessions.

The Northern Echo: Police drone heatmap shows where cannabis grow is in Hartlepool housePolice drone heatmap shows where cannabis grow is in Hartlepool house (Image: Picture: Cleveland Police)

Teesside Crown Court heard how there was also evidence of at least one previous grow as there was four bags of dried cannabis stashed in the property.

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Jonathan Walker, prosecuting, said the plants could yield between22.5kg and 68kg with a street value estimated to be worth up to £680,000.

He said the defendant told police he had arrived in the country from Ukraine and ordered to work to pay back his debt.

Cong, of York Road, Hartlepool, pleaded guilty to production of a Class B drug after the cannabis was closed down on February 15 this year.

The court heard how the married father-of-two worked for a bank in his homeland until 2018 when he fell into debt and was forced to work to pay it off.

Recorder Andrew Dallas sentenced the Vietnamese cannabis farmer to 19-months in prison.

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He said: “You were found in a house containing a large amount of cannabis plants, this was clearly a large and relatively sophisticated operation.”

“There were 810 growing plants across eight rooms together with four bags of drying cannabis inside.

“This is an unusual case, it’s clear you are an intelligent and established man back in Vietnam where you were working as a director in a bank before getting into debt.

“You must have understood better than most what you were getting yourself into.