A MAN who became embroiled in a cannabis farm after falling into debt has avoided an immediate prison stretch.
Quzi Rassaq told Teesside Crown Court that he had been threatened by a gang from Leeds or Bradford after finding himself in financial difficulties with a £9,000 debt.
The 43-year-old told the court that the gang set up the farm at his home in Johnson Street, Hartlepool, and ordered him to water the 50 plants every few days.
He said they made visits every 10 to 14 days to check he was carrying out their orders.
Prosecutor David Crook said that police raided the flat on June 4 last year, and the plants would have an annual yield estimated to be worth £67,000 in three crops.
He said that the Crown did not accept Rassaq’s story, and accused him of lying about being forced to grow drugs.
Scenes of Crime officers were unable to find his fingerprints on any of the sophisticated equipment except a watering container and a leaf.
The court heard Rassaq was not a cannabis user and he was of previous good character.
Nigel Soppitt, defending, said that Rassaq had given the same details to police from the beginning, and that he had played a very minor part in the cannabis farm.
Judge Peter Bowers said that a lot of houses in Hartlepool had been used for growing cannabis over recent months and years, and said “few” would escape going to prison.
Rassaq was given an 18 month jail sentence suspended for 18 months with supervision, 250 hours unpaid work and £100 victim surcharge after he pleaded guilty to the production of a controlled Class B drug.
Judge Bowers said: “It’s clear that the probation officer believes what you said, and the probation officer suggested simply a community order.
“But I want it to be very clear that anyone who grows cannabis gets a prison sentence.”