‘Gardeners’ who tended 995 cannabis plants in Norwich warehouse appear in court
PUBLISHED: 12:34 24 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:34 24 August 2018
Two men who tried to escape police by climbing onto a roof were cannabis factory “gardeners” who were recruited by Albanian gangsters, a court heard.
Shkelzen Harruni, 29, and Antonio Zilfaj, 29, had to be rescued from the roof by a cherry picker at the unit at the Union Park industrial estate near Norwich Airport.
Their escape bid came as police raided the premises on July 25 and found nearly 1,000 cannabis plants, a court heard.
The court heard how both men had been recruited by an Albanian gang and put under pressure to work as gardeners for the commercial drug operation.
Peter Gair, prosecuting, said there were 995 cannabis plants found in the 6,000sq ft warehouse and the electricity to the unit had been bypassed to power heating and lighting for the plants, which were in various stages of growth.
He said it was a large, organised operation but said there was no evidence to suggest the two men arrested played any greater role than tending the plants.
Hurruni and Zilfaj appeared via a video link from Norwich Prison and both admitted production of cannabis on July 25.
Isobel Ascherson, for Hurruni, said he was in debt in Albania and to pay off the cash he was forced to work as a gardener at the cannabis factory: “He was brought to this country to act as a gardener in this cannabis factory.”
She said he was threatened with violence if he did not co-operate.
Darren Snow, for Zilfaj, said he was also put under pressure to work in the cannabis factory after arriving here illegally. He said Zilfaj was taken to the premises and told he had to tend the cannabis plants.
“He had no money, no contacts and had entered the country illegally so he felt he had little option.” Mr Snow said it was a relief to the defendant when the premises were raided by police.
Judge Anthony Bate imposed a six month jail sentence on both men and told them: “It is a sadly familiar tale.”
He said only international co-operation between official agencies would help stop this happening in future.
He accepted their role had been as gardeners and said that after they served their sentence they would both face deportation.
“It is likely you will be deported once your sentences have been served. That is a matter for the immigration authorities.”