Two men of Albanian nationality have been jailed in successive days for tending a cannabis crop in nearby houses in a County Durham town.

Teenager Aurel Frokku yeeterday (Thursday February 22) received an eight-month prison sentence at Durham Crown Court arising from the police disruption of a 100-plant domestic ‘grow’ at an address in Croft Gardens, Ferryhill, last month.

The jail sentence was imposed only 24 hours after a compatriot of Frokku, 35-year-old Emiliano Lamaj, was jailed at the same court as the “gardener” of a much larger cannabis cultivation, at a property on the opposite side of Chilton Lane, in Ferryhill.

The Northern Echo:

As reported in The Northern Echo earlier this week, in Lamaj’s case the operation disrupted by police was described as being on a near industrial scale, with 870 plants having been recovered by police, who were “acting on intelligence” when they carried out the raid at an address in Eldon Terrace, on January 15.

The Northern Echo: Albanian national Emiliano Lamaj was caught tending large-scale cannabis cultivation operation of

He (Lamaj) received a 20-month prison sentence at the court on Wednesday (February 21), but was told he would serve up to half then be released when he is likely to be deported back to Albania by the immigration authorities.

The same fate awaits Frokku, whose lesser sentence of eight-months' imprisonment reflected his young age, his lack of previous convictions, his early indication of guilt and the fact he was tending a much smaller grow.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said police went to the address in Croft Gardens, on January 24, and as officers were forcibly trying to enter by the front door, the defendant was climbing out of the first-floor bathroom window.

He was quickly arrested and the officers then went on to examine inside the premises.

They recovered 50 mature cannabis plants, all starting to flower, 25 from each of two rooms, one on the first floor and the other on the ground floor, both equipped with various growing paraphernalia.

A further 50 more immature plants were found with more growing equipment in the loft space.

Mr Baker said an experienced drugs officer put the potential weight of the yield from the 50 mature plants at between 1.4 and 4.2kg, with a bulk value of between £7,000 and £20,500, o a street sale value of between £14,000 and £42,000.

A much lower valuation, of between £250 and £500 was put on the less mature plants from the loft due to their early stage of growth.

The Northern Echo:

Frokku admitted having played the role of  watering the plants, but he submitted a basis to his guilty plea to cannabis production, that as he was illegally in the UK and short of money he accepted the offer of work in the North East.

Mr Baker said the defendant claimed that when he saw the set-up at the address he was taken to in Ferryhill, he became afraid and was unsure what to do.

But he was “reassured” by those taking him there and although he could have left, he then decided he wanted to stay.

Mr Baker said the defendant then stated that subsequently there were threats made to his family in Albania which is why he carried on watering the plants as he had been told to by those above him in the operation.

“The Crown say that there are strands of both ‘significant’ and ‘lesser’ role and there is some awareness of the scale of the operation as he was carrying out a limited function, under direction.

“And, the Crown accepts there was some pressure applied upon him, but that was exerted after he started working there.”

Recorder Mark McKone KC told Frokku’s counsel, Calum McNicholas, that, given his client’s role, age and previous lack of convictions, he was looking at a sentence of 12-months had it gone to trial, but with a one-third deduction, of four months, due to his early indication of guilt.

Mr McNicholas said he would have suggested that that was the appropriate level of sentence in this case.

Addressing the defendant through an Albanian interpreter, Recorder McKone told him that aggravating features in the case were that he was in the UK illegally and the fact that the electricity meter at the property had been bypassed to provide free power for the operation.

See more court stories from The Northern Echo by clicking here

Cannabis plants seized in Ferryhill raid

Cannabis farm 'gardener' in Ferryhill tried to flee when police called

Police find cannabis farm on Verdun Terrace, near Ferryhill

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But he said he accepted some pressure was applied to “persuade” the defendant to continue with his work watering the plants.

Imposing the eight-month prison sentence the Recorder ordered that £140, found in the living area of the raided property, should be forfeited by the defendant.

Forfeiture and destruction of the recovered plants and growing paraphernalia was also ordered.