Cannabis gang 'unlikely ever to be deported'

A judge last night hit out a "Catch-22" situation which meant that a gang convicted of running a cannabis factory will probably never be sent back to China.

A judge last night hit out a "Catch-22" situation which meant that a gang convicted of running a cannabis factory will probably never be sent back to China.

Judge Peter Jacobs yesterday sentenced the eight gang members to a total of 22 years in prison, with sentences ranging from 4½ years to 15 months. He warned that homegrown cannabis was replacing the smuggling of the drug into this country - and complained that sentences for growing the class C drug were less than for smuggling it in.

He recommended that all eight should be deported to their home country of China when they had served their sentences, but admitted it was unlikely to happen.

The judge told Norwich Crown Court: "We are in the new Catch-22. If you are Chinese and you want to say here, either have a false name or make sure your name cannot be verified, or commit a crime and then China won't take you back and there is nowhere else to go."

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He added that they should be deported because they had "abused the considerable hospitality this country has extended to them and exploited the people of this country - but it won't happen, I fear".

After the case, he told the EDP: "It puts the courts in a very difficult position. We are invited to recommend deportation by the prosecution, when they and we know that we don't have any powers to deport them. My understanding is that the Chinese government will not have them back."

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The six men and two women were convicted of conspiracy to produce and supply cannabis between May 2006 and April 2007. They rented 10 homes in leafy areas of Norwich such as Cringleford, Eaton and Thorpe St Andrew and turned them into cannabis factories producing drugs with a street value of £1.6m.

Cars involved in the operation have been confiscated, but the money produced has not been found and it is not clear whether the ringleaders have been brought to justice.

The judge said a growing number of cannabis factories were replacing the importation of the drug, adding that "the role of the carrier of cannabis resin has been replaced by the role of the gardener, possibly encouraged by the fact that the gardener seems to receive a far more lenient sentence than the carrier".

He added: "It is hardly surprising that an increasing number of these cases are going through the crown courts of this country and this county. I am personally aware of at least five cases of production of cannabis in this court this year. There is evidence that these systems of production are replacing the importation of resin from the Middle East.

"The suspicion is that some of these defendants are higher up the chain than they would have us believe, but courts cannot act on suspicion. The gardener has replaced the minder as the defence cop-out. It was a significant operation and I am satisfied that each of these defendants knew he or she was involved in a large-scale operation."

Sentencing them, he said there were three people who helped to organise the conspiracy: Shuang Cao, 25, who acted as an interpreter, rented some of the houses, and acted as a channel of communication with the others; her boyfriend Shen Chow, 27, who rented at least one of the properties and provided half the rental money; and Yan Fu Zhang, 29, who rented at least one property, made frequent trips to London and was found with £4,000 in cash. Cao was sentenced to 4½ years in prison and Chow to three years, both of which would have been higher had they not pleaded guilty. Zhang, who pleaded not guilty and was convicted at a trial on Monday, received a 4½-year sentence. All three lived at Robson Road, West Earlham.

Guang Lin, 27, of Howlett Drive, Norwich, who was paid £300 a week to water the plants, received a sentence of two years and three months; his brother Xing Lin, 25, of the same address, who was only briefly involved, was sentenced to 15 months in prison; Jin Chen, 24, of Robson Road, who worked as a plant waterer, minder, and harvester, was sentenced to three years three months in prison - she had denied the charge and was convicted on Monday; brothers Guo Ren Chen, 34, of West Sussex, and Guo Fa Chen, 38, of Earlham Grove, were sentenced to 18 and 15 months respectively.

The Home Office was unable to comment last night on whether Chinese criminals could be deported.

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