Albanian 'gardener' jailed after being found at 'sophisticated' cannabis farm in County Durham industrial unit

Jeton Metollari, 24, was found at a commercial cannabis farm inside a unit on a Peterlee industrial estate in April
-Credit: (Image: Durham Constabulary)

An Albanian 'gardener' has been jailed after being found at a 'sophisticated' cannabis farm in a County Durham industrial unit.

Jeton Metollari was found after police were made aware of a commercial cannabis farm inside a unit on a Peterlee industrial estate on April 30 this year. Over 200 plants were found inside the unit which could have harvested a yield worth almost £174,000.

Metollari had been living in the unit which was stocked with food and alcohol. He was caught after emerging from inside a wall and surrendering to police.

On Wednesday, Metollari, of no fixed address, appeared at Durham Crown Court via link from HMP Durham to be sentenced for being concerned in the production of cannabis. The 24-year-old pleaded guilty to the offence on the basis he was a gardener in one industrial unit only. He required an Albanian interpreter throughout proceedings.

The court heard that police were called to Unit 5 of Peterlee Industrial Estate where they found over 300 cannabis plants. When the landlord arrived, they "reported similar behaviour" at Unit 9. Both units were being leased by a firm called Bathroom Solutions, the court was told.

Cainan Lonsdale, prosecuting, said: "[Unit 9] was accessed and 207 cannabis plants were found. Several rooms within that unit were set up with cannabis plants. There was also a living area, a room with beds and a room for the storage of equipment.

"The living area was stocked with food, alcohol and household goods. A further unit on the estate was discovered to contain 1,004 cannabis plants."

Mr Lonsdale added: "Overnight the scene was secured and the electricity was made safe. A PC was awaiting the scene of crime officers when he saw the defendant come out of the walls of Unit 9 and place his hands up."

Metollari was arrested and his mobile phone was examined. The phone was said to have had "growing instructions" on it along with a video showing Metollari above a suspended ceiling in the unit.

The 207 plants found in Unit 9 were analysed by an expert who said the estimated total street value of the yield could have been between £57,960 and £173,880. The court was told Metollari had no previous convictions and is an Albanian national.

Martin Scarborough, defending, said: "This is a familiar case where, effectively, people acting as gardeners are found in premises when police attend units such as this. It was clearly a commercial grow. It was an isolated incident in relation to this defendant, who has been in the country for one year and has no previous convictions."

Judge Paul Watson KC said it was a "sophisticated cannabis grow" and that Metollari was performing the gardener role "under the direction of others". He said: "There is no evidence of you having any influence over those further up the chain."

Metollari was jailed for 18 months. Judge Watson said it was a matter for the Home Office as to whether he will be deported back to Albania.