Albanian crime gang who travelled to North East to break into cannabis farm avoid jail

A huge cannabis farm was uncovered by police after an Albanian crime gang broke into an unoccupied Gateshead flat, a court heard.

Denis Loka, 22, Marsel Tushollari, 42, Kreshnik Xhaferi, 41, and Kristo Pocaj, 31, travelled to the region in the early hours November 29 last year to break into a flat above a newsagent in Gateshead. But Newcastle Crown Court heard a neighbour spotted "three people trying to crowbar their way into a flat".

Officers arrived at the scene and entered the premises to find the defendants and also discovered the flat was being used as a cannabis farm, the court was told. Three of the rooms were being used to grow plants, the court heard, with hundreds of plants at various stages of cultivation.

Recorder Christopher Rose said: "You all travelled a considerable distance away to break into a flat that was above a newsagent which was unoccupied but was being used to house a significant cannabis farm. It's apparent to me it is a professionally set up farm with some 200 plants at various stages of development or maturity.

"It clearly showed there was organised criminality behind it."

Recorder Rose said the group had the equipment they needed to break-in and targeted it in the early hours believing no one would be in.

He added: "I'm quite satisfied that there targeting of a professionally set up cannabis farm by individuals who lived well out of the region demonstrates a significant degree of planning and organisation.

"A member of the public saw you forcing your entry and the police attended and caught you in the act."

The court heard Loka, Tushollari and Xhaferi had no previous convictions, while Pocaj had two convictions related to supplying drugs.

All four men pleaded guilty to a non-dwelling house burglary, with Loka, Tushollari and Xhaferi sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, suspended for two years. Pocaj was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.