Hartlepool cannabis farm was worth 'up to £350,000' until neighbours reported it to police
A man found in charge of a cannabis farm with a potential value of more than £350,000 has been warned prison is likely.
Police discovered the illegal growing operation inside a house in Grange Road, Hartlepool, in September after neighbours reported a strong smell of cannabis.
Inside they found 139 plants growing over four rooms and Bekim Zyberaj who was looking after them.
Teesside Crown Court heard it was a relatively sophisticated set up with lighting and timers to boost the plants’ growth.
Rachel Masters, prosecuting, said: “The four growing areas utilised high powered lighting, reflective ventilation, timer switches and the means generally to regulate the temperature.
"The electricity meter had been bypassed. All of the plants appeared healthy.
"There was ample space for them to grow to their full maturity.”
A police drugs expert estimated the plants could have produced cannabis with a street value of between £38,920 and £116,760.
Miss Masters added: “The expert drugs officer noticed that due to the professionalism of the set up at the property it was far more likely that the cannabis would have yielded the higher valuation.”
The officer added the operation could have gone on to produce three crops a year with a total value of £350,280.
Originally from Albania, Zyberaj, 20, described his role as a “gardener” and told police he had been at the house for about a month.
He said he had entered the UK illegally and upon arriving in London was told he owed £25,000 to traffickers.
After escaping from a cannabis farm in Grimsby, he said he was approached in London by two men who made threats towards his family and took him to the house in Hartlepool where the growth was already set up.
Zyberaj said he received £50 to £60 from the men every couple of weeks for tending to the plants.
He pleaded guilty to production of a class B drugs and was remanded in Durham Prison.
Sentencing was adjourned so the probation service could check out an address if Zyberaj was to be given a suspended sentence.
Judge Jonathan Carroll adjourned it until December 6 but warned him: “I’m not making any promises.
"A custody sentence seems highly likely.”
He ordered the drugs and equipment to be forfeited and destroyed.