Great Britain

Drug farm was on South Street in Spennymoor

A BUILDER from Albania who entered the country in the back of lorry has been jailed after tending to a North-East drug farm.

Martin Lleshaj, said he paid £15,000 to man from Africa to enter the UK with the hope of working on building sites to support his elderly mother in his homeland.

The 30-year-old was smuggled in the back of a truck from France, but when he began looking for work he was told he did not have the correct documentation.

Instead, he was persuaded to tend a cannabis farm in Spennymoor with the promise of earning back his £15,000.

But the operation, at 32 South Street, was rumbled by police who said the drugs they found had a street value of almost £140,000.

Jane Waugh, prosecuting, said: “He said he was told this was legal in the UK and the police would not bother him

“Attempts have been made to find out if he is the victim of human trafficking.

The defendant had initially refused to co-operate. He has since informed the authorities that he was not claiming to be the victim of human trafficking.

“When police had arrived there was another Albanian man in the property.

“He had little or no English. He said that he owed money and was being held against his will. He was treated as a victim of human trafficking.

“He was interviewed by the police and has since disappeared.”

Lleshaj appeared on Friday but had earlier pleaded guilty to a single charge of producing a controlled drug.

Mitigating Michele Turner said: “He is a builder by profession. The economic situation in Albania is a difficult one and is one where he was struggling to find work. He is responsible for his elderly mother. He was under the impression that building work was in plentiful supply in the UK.

“He was not aware he needed certificates to work on building sites. His motivation was to get home. He was in a foreign country with no means and no way to get back home. He saw this as an opportunity to get out of the situation he has put himself in.”

Judge Jonathan Carroll sentenced him to 32 months imprisonment and said he must serve half before he is eligible for release.

He is referring the case to the Immigration Service to ensure Lleshaj is sent back to Albania when he has served his sentence.

Speaking through an interpreter, the judge said: “You came to the North-East to play your part in a sophisticated commercial cannabis grow. You were motivated by substantial reward this operation was capable of producing. You fully understood this was a criminal enterprise and I reject any suggestion to the contrary.”

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