Cannabis farmer told police he was a 14-year-old trafficked from Vietnam as £189,000 grow found above Hartlepool shop

The case is being heard at Teesside Crown Court.
The case is being heard at Teesside Crown Court.

A 14-year-old boy was in charge of a cannabis farm growing £189,000 worth of the drug in a flat in Hartlepool that was raided by police, a court has been told.

The youngster, who cannot be identified, was asleep in a makeshift bed when the landlord let police into the two-storey apartment above a pizza shop in York Road just before midnight on July 26.

He claimed that he had been trafficked into the UK from Vietnam and threatened that he would be assaulted if he attempted to leave the flat with its 225 cannabis plants, prosecutor Christopher Wood told Teesside Crown Court.

Nigel Soppitt, defending, told the jury that the boy's story was that he was taken off a van or lorry in Warwickshire and arrested before being placed in the care of social services.

Police found three mobile phones in the flat, but there were no signs that they had been used.

Mr Wood said that the boy gave his date of birth as November 25, 2003, and when he was taken to Hartlepool Police Station a solicitor read out a statement in which he said he was brought to Hartlepool against his will.

The boy said that he was told he had to stay in the flat or be assaulted by the man who brought him.

Mr Wood added: "He said that he did not know it was cannabis that he was cultivating and he was not aware what cannabis was."

He said that it was a matter for the jury to assess whether he was 14 or much older as the Crown contend, and whether he was the victim of people trafficking or modern day slavery, which the Home Office did not accept.

Mr Wood said: "The Crown say that he maintained the health of the plants and he did so of his own free will."

The boy now 15 pleads not guilty to producing the Class B drug cannabis.

The trial continues.