International gang jailed for part in £1m Norfolk cannabis factory
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Members of an international gang involved in a £1m cannabis factory in Norfolk were trafficked to the UK as part of an organised criminal operation, a court heard.
Officers seized more than 1,000 cannabis plants after raiding the factory, at Lenwade, between Norwich and Fakenham, in July, last year, and uncovered a “highly organised and sophisticated” set up with workers recruited from Turkey, Vietnam and Albania, Norwich Crown Court heard.
One Albanian came to the UK in a lorry and another from Vietnam arrived in a container, before ending up in Norfolk.
Jamie Sawyer, prosecuting, said when police raided the factory they found harvested plants and others in various stages of growth.
He said the factory was capable of producing three to four crops a year and said: “It was capable of producing industrial quantities for commercial use.”
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He said there was a living area in the factory with airbeds, a kitchen area with fridge freezer and shower.
The electricity supply, which had been tampered with, was described as posing a fire hazard.
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Mevlan Cena, 24, Potja Shpresim, 22, Kien Le, 27, Ali Yilmaz, 54, Zafer Kinik, 54, and Tran Dat, 24, all of no fixed address, admitted production of cannabis on July 16, last year.
Because of social distancing measures due to Covid-19 the defendants were dealt with in separate groups over a link from Norwich prison with the help of interpreters. Kinik was jailed 20 months, Cena and Le jailed 26 months, Shpresim jailed 24 months, Dat 27 months and Yilmaz 28 months and all face deportation from the UK.
Sentencing them, Judge Andrew Shaw described the factory as a multi-national organised criminal operation carried out in a remote Norfolk location.
He said the defendants had been living in poor and unhygienic conditions and in danger because of the electricity supply and said: “Each of you were living in premises where daily your lives were in danger because of the meddling with the electricity supply creating an obvious real hazard.”
Judge Shaw added: “Each of you I am sure were acting under a degree of pressure.”
He said they all worked as gardeners, apart from Yilmaz, who provided security at the factory.
He told him: “You were higher up the chain than the five gardeners.”
He said all six defendants would face deportation.
Matthew McNiff, for Le, said: “He was trafficked. He was exploited. He speaks little English. He was in this country illegally and will be deported.”
Mr McNiff, also for Shpresim, said that he would have to go back to Albania as he was also in the UK illegally: “That will be an end to the opportunity he so hoped to have in this country.”
Andrew Oliver, for Cena, said he came to the UK in a lorry in 2016 and thought he would work in construction but ended up at the cannabis factory.
“He was told to work there as he still owed money to the person who brought him to the UK and threats were made to him.”
Mr Oliver said Cena did have a mobile phone and said: “He accepts he did not phone the police that was because he was scared.”
“He is sorry for what he has done. He felt pressure to do what he did.”
He said Cena wanted to return home to Albania as quickly as possible.
Mr Oliver for Kinik, said he originally thought he was recruited for farm work: “He was taken to Norfolk and on his arrival he realised it was a cannabis factory. He was tasked with looking after the plants.”
He said that Kinik was worried about not being able to stay in the UK.
Mr Oliver for Dat said he arrived in a container to the UK and was taken to work in the Norfolk factory.
He said Dat also wanted to return to Vietnam.
Hugh Vass, for Yilmaz said he was recruited to act as a night watchman: “It was not to keep the workers in. It was to keep anyone entering out.”
He said that Yilmaz did not know what he was getting involved in until he got there.
“Inevitably he is going to be sent back to Turkey. He has already paid a very significant price for getting involved.”
Det Insp Chris Burgess, from Norwich CID, said: “A huge amount of planning and work went into this operation from the seizure of the plants right through to the conviction of those involved.
“People often think that the production of cannabis and selling of drugs is a victimless crime, but what people don’t realise is that the people at the top often exploit vulnerable people and force them to work in these factories with no concern for their welfare.
“The result not only demonstrates the collaborative effort of those involved in this investigation but it should also reassure the local community that we do listen to any concerns they may have about drug supply and we will take enforcement action where appropriate.”
“We continue to encourage anyone with information about drug activity in their local community to contact police.”
Anyone with information about drugs activity in their area should contact Norfolk Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.