A gang of Albanian migrants - some of whom arrived in the UK on small boats - have been jailed after they were caught following a raid on a cannabis farm in a Norfolk village.

A police drone was used to help catch the five men after they ran off when officers swooped on the facility at the former Norfolk Meats abattoir, in Banham.

Eastern Daily Press: Cannabis plants found at the former abattoir in BanhamCannabis plants found at the former abattoir in Banham (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)Norwich Crown Court heard five men Hysen Kodra, 33, Kristjan Pergjeci, 23, Aldito Drobaj, 22, Emirjan Gatali, 29, and Bledar Troka, 34, were working as cannabis 'gardeners' at the unit, which prosecutors said was capable of producing "industrial quantities for commercial sale".Eastern Daily Press: An Albanian cannabis gang have been jailed after a raid at BanhamAn Albanian cannabis gang have been jailed after a raid at Banham (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)Ian James, prosecuting, said the men were later arrested after the raid on May 15 this year.

Eastern Daily Press: Norfolk Police droneNorfolk Police drone (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)He said the "erstwhile abattoir was a disused commercial edifice" which was "extensively used for the cultivation of cannabis".

Eastern Daily Press: The former Norfolk Meats abattoir where the cannabis was foundThe former Norfolk Meats abattoir where the cannabis was found (Image: Google Maps)He said the building had been separated into three large cultivation areas and contained fans as well as growing paraphernalia like lighting and nutrients to feed the plants.Eastern Daily Press: Cannabis plants found following the Banham raidCannabis plants found following the Banham raid (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)He said a total of 455 plants were found at the premises thought to be capable of producing between 13 and 34 kilos of cannabis.

Eastern Daily Press: Hysen KodraHysen Kodra (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)Mr James said all five defendants were Albanian nationals based in London, who were in the UK without permission.

Eastern Daily Press: Kristjan PergieciKristjan Pergieci (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)They all appeared for sentencing in Norwich after they previously admitted being concerned in the production of cannabis.

Eastern Daily Press: Emirjan GataliEmirjan Gatali (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)

Eastern Daily Press: Bledar TrokaBledar Troka (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)Judge Alice Robinson said it was a "sophisticated" cannabis growing operation on "large scale" capable of producing "significant quantities for commercial use".

Eastern Daily Press: Aldito DrobajAldito Drobaj (Image: Norfolk Constabulary)Sentencing them each to 22 months in prison she accepted they had all played a lesser role as part of the operation.




Lori Tucker, representing, Kodra, said he "incurred a debt" to trafficking gangs after he got to this country by small boat and accrued a debt as a result which he needed to pay off.

She said he "knows it was wrong and should not have done what he did".

Danielle O'Donovan, mitigating for Troka, said he too was a "vulnerable" young man who was "exploited" as a result of wanting a better life for his family having arrived from across the channel in a "tiny dinghy".

She said the scale of the operation was "beyond the understanding and responsibility" of the defendant.

Juliet Donovan, mitigating for Gatali and Pergjeci, on behalf of Gatali said he had come to this country to make money and found himself in a situation where he was a gardener which she insisted was of lesser role.

While for Pergjeci, who was of good character, she said he got "caught out" after being told he would get a job in construction which turned out not to be the case.

He was seeking asylum in this country as he owed money in his own country and has a sick mother.

Andrew Oliver, mitigating for Drobaj, said it was "inevitable" his client was to receive an immediate custodial sentence adding his greatest mitigation was his early guilty plea.

Last year saw a sharp rise in the numbers of Albanians arriving in the UK in small boats with a total of 12,301, the largest of any nationality.

The National Crime Agency has warned Albanian criminals are committing ‘blatant manipulation’ of the UK’s modern slavery laws, bringing workers into Britain by small boats to work in the drugs trade, for example in cannabis farms.