An Albanian man’s asylum bid to remain in the UK looks doomed to fail after he was caught tending a cannabis farm in a rented terraced house in County Durham.

Police visited the property in Alexandrina Street, Seaham, armed with a search warrant and found what was considered to be a “sophisticated” cannabis grow, on November 3 last year.

Durham Crown Court was told 64 plants were being grown in the house while the defendant, Bladar Nikolli, the only person present, was located in a small rear bedroom.

The Northern Echo: Bladar Nikolli was jailed for tending to 64-plant cannabis crop being grown at terraced house in

He handed over the keys to the property to the police and on being searched was found to be in possession of £64 plus a mobile phone.

Cainan Lonsdale, prosecuting, said efforts were made to try to discover how long he had been in the property.

Examination of the phone provided photographic evidence of pots of cannabis being grown from October 28, while there was video footage of him inside a moving car, on November 1, showing that he was free to come and go from the address.

Mr Lonsdale said the 31-year-old Albanian national, who has no previous criminal record in this country, was not lawfully a resident of the UK, but he had made an asylum claim to remain here.

The role he was playing in the cannabis grow was not in dispute and it was accepted he must have known the scale of the operation, added Mr Lonsdale.

Nikolli admitted a charge of producing a class B drug.

The Northern Echo:

Calum McNicholas, in mitigation, said the defendant was in the country illegally, but he had the outstanding asylum claim which was ongoing at the time of his arrest.

Mr McNicholas said while the defendant would have had an understanding of the scale of the grow, on balance, the evidence would suggest he played a “lesser role” in the operation.

Judge Jo Kidd said having seen police video footage from the property she could see the sophisticated nature of the operation, given the lighting and other equipment involved, while the electricity meter was by-passed to provide free power supply.

She said it was agreed that it was a commercial enterprise and she did not believe the defendant had been coerced into involvement.

“I accept many people coming from Albania arrive illegally because they are under pressure due to the economic situation in Albania.

But, speaking through an Albanian interpreter, she told the defendant: "There’s no evidence to suggest you travelled to the UK with the intention of carrying out any drug offending and you have no previous convictions for any like offence.”

Imposing a 12-month prison sentence, Judge Kidd said the defendant would serve half before being eligible for release.

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“I anticipate by reason of the sentence you will be deported from the UK when you are released.

“But, that will be a matter for the Home Office to arrange.”

She also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the plants and paraphernalia seized from the house.