A man who came to the UK illegally to seek work to send money back for his ailing father’s medical bills, found himself tending a cannabis crop in a terraced house in County Durham.

Luan Todaj was the only person present when police, armed with a search warrant, forced entry to the property, in Bishop Auckland, on February 2 this year.

Durham Crown Court was told he was arrested and a mobile phone was seized from him.

Officers found three rooms in the house in Dent Street fitted out for the growth of cannabis, with 116 plants, in various stages of growth, from saplings upwards, recovered.

The Northern Echo: Police raid on cannabis farm in domestic property in Dent Street, Bishop Auckland, led to find of

Peter Sabiston, prosecuting, said the level of sophisticated paraphernalia, such as ventilators, heat lamps and transformers, found in such operations were all present, while the electricity meter was bypassed to all for free power supply.

The defendant, an Albanian national, told police, when interviewed with assistance from an interpreter, that he had received a call to clear the premises of cannabis, but was not involved in its growth.

But he was unable to say who had issued him with the instruction.

Mr Sabiston said the defendant explained to police he needed money to pay for his father’s medical bills back home in Albania.

He said he travelled from Birmingham at the end of January and had only been in the North East for a few days when police came calling.

Mr Sabiston said it was considered to be a commercial enterprise, but it was accepted Todaj would have played no more than a “lesser” role in the operation.

The Northern Echo:

The 28-year-old defendant, of no fixed abode, denied producing a controlled drug of class B, being concerned in the production of cannabis and abstracting electricity when he appeared at an esrlier hearing, via video link from Durham Prison.

A trial was fixed for July 15, while the defendant was remanded to remain in custody.

But the case came back before the court yesterday (Wednesday, April 17), when just a single count of production of cannabis was put to the defendant once more.

This time, he pleaded guilty, which Mr Sabiston said was considered “acceptable” to the Crown and the other two charges would not be pursued by the prosecution.

Michele Turner, in mitigation, said a lot of what the defendant told the police in his interview after his arrest was, “based in fact”.

She told the court: “He did enter the UK illegally in order to earn additional funds to support his ailing father and had been earning a living in the London and Birmingham areas in construction.

“He was contacted by what he believed to be a source of work and told to go to Doncaster.

“He was then transported from there to the address the court has heard about.

“He believed he was there between a week and a fortnight and he accepts he was responsible for taking care of the plants the police found in that property.

“He’s aware it will be an inevitable custodial sentence in this case and does not request reports.”

Asked by Judge Nathan Adams about the defendant’s status in this country, Ms Turner replied: “The only thing I can say is there has been contact with the Home Office who are awaiting the outcome of these proceedings.”

Judge Adams told Todaj he was tending “a relatively sophisticated” operation, with more than 100 plants being grown across three rooms.

“You were present, and you now accept you were assisting in the production of these plants.

“I sentence you on the basis that you had little understanding of the scale of the operation when you were taken there.”

Given he has no previous convictions in this country, Judge Adams said he would accept he performed, “a lesser role”, in the enterprise.

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He said had the case gone to trial the defendant would have received a 12-month prison sentence, but, allowing him 25-per cent credit for his guilty plea, the final sentence is one of nine months’ imprisonment.

Judge Adams told Todaj: “This is not a sentence that automatically requires your deportation, so that is entirely a matter for the Home Office to determine the outcome of these proceedings.”

The judge also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the seized plants and growing equipment recovered from the house.